Right to Claim: A Matter of Time
Spanish Law established two different classes of time limits, with different effects: Prescription (prescripción) and expiration (caducidad).
According to the law (Civil Code 1.973), an action subject to prescription will be interrupted by either a judicial or extrajudicial claim or by acknowledgement of debt by the defendant. The implications of this are that once the action is brought, the time limit starts counting again from the date of the claim. The Civil Code does not require the claim to be through the courts. A notarised letter, and more recently, a burofax (a fax sent from the post office with ackowledgement of content and recorded delivery) are enough, and even if the plaintiff subsequently decides to discontinue with his claim, the time limit begins to run from the date of the action.
Expiration (caducidad) is also a time limit after which the plaintiff loses his right to make a claim. However, expiration is a rather more strict period, in that the claim has to be lodged through a Court of law within the time limit in order not to lose the right of claim.
In general, time limits vary from action to action: a claim under the provisions of the Consumers Protection laws will be different from a claim between two companies. Similarly, mandatory guarantees arising from real estate transactions, insurance, travel or transport contracts vary significantly. Also, actions founded on tort shall not be brought after the elapsing of a certain time limit.
These are the different and most important time limits imposed by law to bring actions founded on:
A) General Time Limit: 15 years
This time limit is the general period granted by the Civil Code and applicable to any contract where a special period is not specifically contemplated. For example, any claim against providers of professional services (lawyers, accountants, doctors...), supply companies (water, electricity, gas...), and generally any other not subject to a shorter time limit
B) Property Purchase: 10, 3 and 1 year
C) RETAIL PURCHASE: Guarantee period: 6 months minimu
Purchase-sale agreements between consumers and retailers are governed by the Consumer Protection Act, which establishes a minimum period of guarantee of 6 months. Many manufacturers extend this period up to one year from the date of purchase, or even more. The guarantee given by the retailer or manufacturer gives the choice of having the product repaired, and if the repair is not satisfactory, to have the product replaced or alternatively obtain a refund of the purchase price.
The nature of this time limit is of prescription, which means that any action done within that period amounting to a claim will have the effect of interrupting the 6-month time limit. The claimant can then avail himself of the general period of 15 years (expiration time limit) from the date of the claim within which the lawsuit will have to filed.
Some judges are of the view that the period of guarantee runs simultaneously to that of expiration, which would mean that a suit would have to be filed within the guarantee period. This interpretation is seemingly unfair in that the Consumers Protection laws are precisely designed to protect the weakest party to a transaction ensuring a higher degree of flexibility if the interests of the consumers are compromised. In the light of these contradictory interpretations it is recommended that the suit is filed within the guarantee period.
D) INSURANCE: 2 or 5 years
The law when it comes to insurance establishes two time limits:
E) COMBINED TRAVEL: 2 years
The law governing combined transport in Spain is an adaptation from the European directive. The time limit imposed on claims is of 2 years for any breach of contract: non-fulfillment of the agreed conditions, for example, change in the projected route, allocation in inferior accommodation or inferior transport conditions to those agreed, charges for services or facilities which were supposed to be included in the price...
F) TRANSPORT: 2 years or 6 months
In air transport, when a company falls in breach of contract, the customer has two years within to claim where the flight is international (this time limit is an expiration limit, so the claim has to necessarily be judicial). In national flights, the time limit is reduced to 6 months, but it is a prescription time limit in which any claim interrupts this period.
In land transport, the time limit (prescription period) is of 1 year.
In order to bring judicial action, a prior claim to the company will be necessary where the claim is based on a delay, lost or damaged luggage or goods transported: these time limits are extremely short:
If the claim is not presented in due time, the consumer will be precluded from bringing an action against the company.
G) PURCHASE-SALE transaction between consumers: 6 month
In a sale between consumers, whether it is a movable good (cars, electrical appliances...) or real estate, the vendor is answerable for any hidden defect during a six-month period from the date of purchase. If in that period the buyer discovers that there is a defect that existed at the time of purchase, he is entitled to obtain a proportional refund of money or to undo the sale. In addition to this, he will be entitled to claim damages if he can prove the vendor knew there were a defect and did not disclose it. This is an expiration time limit, so quick action is to be taken if any defect is discovered within that period.
In real estate, the 6-month expiration period is complemented by the constructor's mandatory guarantee (joint 10-year period liability) if the property is less than 10 years old.
H) DAMAGES not arising from a contractual relationship
In the two situations included here, the claimant and the suspected agent producing the damage are not linked by any agreement. The time limits to pursue a claim are the following:
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