Litigation

Limitation issues

What are the time limits for bringing civil claims?

Liechtenstein law treats limitation periods as a substantive law issue. The general limitation period is 30 years after the emergence of a claim. However, for certain types of contractual claims the limitation period is five years (eg, claims for delivery of assets or performance of works or other services in a trade, commercial or other business, claims for rent, claims of employees for remuneration and reimbursement of expenses in connection with employment contracts) or less (eg, three years for the right to challenge a declaration of last will, to claim the legal share or its increase or to revoke a donation due to ingratitude of the donee).

Claims for damages lapse within three years after the damaged party obtained knowledge of the damage, of the damaging party and of the causal connection. If such claims are related to a financial service business conducted by a financial intermediary, the absolute time limit is 10 years. In all other cases, the absolute statute of limitation is 30 years after the occurrence of the damaging event. If, however, the damage is caused by a criminal action subject to imprisonment of more than three years, the statute of limitation is always 30 years.

The lapse of time is not to be considered ex officio without objection of the parties. Hence, it is generally possible for the parties to waive the statute of limitation defence or to agree to suspend such time limits.

Pre-action behaviour

Are there any pre-action considerations the parties should take into account?

Pursuant to sections 227 to 231 ZPO, a party may apply for a conciliation attempt and the summons of the opponent for this purpose. However, this is entirely voluntary and only possible if the opponent resides in Liechtenstein. The non-appearance of the opponent has no consequences.

Since 30 June 2015, it is no longer necessary to conduct compulsory conciliation proceedings before filing an action.

Starting proceedings

How are civil proceedings commenced? How and when are the parties to the proceedings notified of their commencement? Do the courts have the capacity to handle their caseload?

Civil proceedings are initiated by filing a legal action or statement of claim with the LG. In the legal action, the plaintiff has to set out the facts on which he or she bases the claim and the evidence with which he or she intends to prove the asserted facts. If the court accepts that it has jurisdiction, it serves the legal action with the claim documents on the defendant and at the same time sets a date for the first hearing. If the defendant is not resident in Liechtenstein, service of the legal action and the claim documents is regularly effected via letters rogatory to the competent court where the defendant resides.

The Liechtenstein courts have proven to be highly efficient and able to handle their caseload for decades.

Timetable

What is the typical procedure and timetable for a civil claim?

If, after receipt of the legal action, the court accepts that it has jurisdiction, it serves the legal action with the claim documents on the defendant and at the same time sets a date for the first hearing. At the first hearing, the defendant may invoke formal objections (such as the lack of jurisdiction, for example) and apply for the order of a security for costs, if the prerequisites are given. In cases where the claimant is ordered by the court to deposit a security for costs, the defendant is invited by the court to submit a reply to the statement of claim, if such a security for costs is deposited in time. Thereafter, depending on the complexity of the case, the court usually sets a hearing to decide on the evidence that will be taken. The matter is then heard in one or more oral hearings where the parties may plead their case, witnesses are examined, etc. Once the judge is satisfied and finds that the factual basis of the case is duly presented and the matter ready for taking a decision, he or she will close the hearing and then deliver the written judgment. As a general rule, further factual pleadings and new evidence may be put forward or offered by the parties to support their pleadings until the closure of the oral hearing.

The duration of proceedings before the first instance obviously depends on the subject matter and complexity of the case at hand. If extensive evidence has to be taken, for example, by hearing a large number of witnesses or if the court needs to appoint an expert witness for special questions of fact or if a witness needs to be heard abroad via letters rogatory, the duration of the proceedings before the LG may take up to one year, and in complex cases even longer. As a general rule, a decision of the LG may be expected within one year. A final decision that may only be obtained from the OGH can take up to three years. If a matter is of great complexity and if decisions of the lower instances are lifted and the matter handed down to the lower instance for a new decision or if the StGH is involved, proceedings may also take considerably longer.

Case management

Can the parties control the procedure and the timetable?

The control of the proceedings and the timetable is exercised by the judge who opens, directs and closes the oral hearing (section 180 ZPO). The judge may order the parties to submit written pleadings and sets the dates for the examination of witnesses, experts and the production of evidence.

Class action

May litigants with similar claims bring a form of collective redress? In what circumstances is this permitted?

Generally, class actions are unknown to Liechtenstein procedural laws. However, section 11 et seq ZPO contain provisions regarding the joinder of parties (either as joined plaintiffs or joined defendants). Pursuant to these provisions, several persons may act as joint claimants or joint defendants if their rights are based on the same legal and factual grounds or if they assert similar claims that are based on similar legal and factual grounds and which are all matters within the competence of Liechtenstein courts. Furthermore, the Liechtenstein Consumer Protection Act (KSchG) enables certain consumer protection organisations to claim on behalf of several individuals; for example, against the terms and conditions of businesses that are disadvantageous to consumers (article 41 et seq KSchG). However, these are not class actions in the strict sense.