Litigation

Limitation issues

What are the time limits for bringing civil claims?

The Swedish Limitations Act stipulates the principal statutory limitation under Swedish law, namely that a claim not invoked within a period of 10 years from its accrual is time-barred.

However, there are rules stipulating a shorter period of limitation. For example, there is a time limit of three months to challenge a shareholders’ meeting and a three-year limit in a consumer-to-business relationship. Further, in commercial relationships, parties are free to agree on amendments of the stipulated limitation rules, such as to agree on a shorter period of limitation, to change the criteria for interrupting the time bar or to amend the subject of limitation.

It should be noted that, in some cases, there is a formal requirement to instigate litigation in order to interrupt the time bar, while in other cases a written notification to the opposing party may be sufficient.

Pre-action behaviour

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

There are no rules in the Swedish Code of Judicial Procedure stipulating any requirements prior to the commencement of formal proceedings. Procedural agreements generally do not preclude the parties from bringing an action to court, unless there is an explicit exception stated in law. One such exception stated in law, which precludes court proceedings, is an agreement between the parties to resolve the dispute by arbitration.

However, pursuant to the rules of the Swedish Bar Association, a legal action against an opposing party must as a general rule not be taken unless the opposing party is given a reasonable period of time either to settle the claim or state its position thereto. This main rule is usually met by virtue of a letter requesting, for example, fulfilment of the opposing party’s obligations under an agreement, payment of an amount due or claim for damages, with the notification that legal actions may be taken otherwise.

If a party initiates an action in court without the opposing party having given cause for it, this may have consequences as to the responsibility for litigation costs.

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?

Proceedings are commenced by an application in writing to the court for a summons. The writ of summons shall state:

  • a distinct claim;
  • a detailed account of the circumstances invoked as the basis of the claim;
  • a specification of the evidence offered and what shall be proved by each piece of evidence (in practice, however, this is commonly deferred to a later stage of the proceedings); and
  • the circumstances rendering the court competent, unless this is apparent from what is otherwise stated.

If the plaintiff has any requests as to the management of the case, the plaintiff should state such requests in the application.

When a summons is issued by the competent court, it will be served upon the defendant together with the summons application and the documents annexed thereto. The issuance of summons by the court constitutes the formal commencement of the proceedings, even though an application of summons shall be deemed to have arrived on the date it was filed (which, for example, will be the decisive date for assessing whether a claim has been brought within the limitation period).

In recent years, Swedish courts have been criticised for not being able to adjudicate disputes in a timely manner, mostly due to a heavy caseload. There are, for the time being, no proposals to ease any such capacity issues. However, the district courts have the possibility to fulfil the quorum requirement with only one legally qualified judge (instead of three) when the court considers it sufficient with regard to the extent and difficulty of the case. This makes court proceedings more time-efficient and enables the parties to reach a judgment in a shorter amount of time.

Timetable

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

The defendant shall be afforded a reasonable time to provide a statement of defence (normally two to three weeks, but the defendant can apply for a longer time) and the statement of defence shall contain any procedural objections, information to what extent the plaintiff’s claims are admitted or contested and the basis thereof, together with the evidence invoked (as regards invoking of evidence in practice, see question 5). In the event the defendant fails to submit a statement of defence within the time stipulated by the court, the plaintiff may, on request, have the claim granted in a default judgment.

Failure by the defendant to raise objections to certain procedural impediments, such as lack of jurisdiction of the court, in the first statement of defence, precludes the defendant from invoking such objections later on in the course of the proceedings.

The main steps to trial are usually:

  • issuance of summons by the court;
  • preparation, which normally is effected by exchange of written submissions and one preparatory hearing;
  • main hearing; and finally
  • the court renders its judgment.

In order to speed up the proceedings, the court is responsible for setting a timetable to trial together with the parties. However, during the preparation stage, procedural issues for the court to decide may arise; for example, requests for production of documents, interim measures, allowance of claims and evidence.

The time for a case to reach trial depends on the complexity of the case and the workload of the court. Normally a commercial case will take approximately 12 to 18 months to reach trial in the first instance.

Case management

Can the parties control the procedure and the timetable?

The parties have limited possibilities to expedite the procedure and the timetable.

If, however, a party in a commercial dispute delays the proceedings, the court may direct a party to finally determine its action or defence and to state the evidence (if any) that the party invokes. After the set time for such statement has expired, the party may not invoke new circumstances or new evidence unless it can reasonably prove that there was a valid excuse for its failure to invoke the circumstances or evidence earlier.

If no oral evidence is invoked, it is possible to request a judgment over the complete case without a main hearing. Generally, these types of judgments expedite the proceedings.

Class action

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

A class action proceeding under the Swedish Class Action Act occurs when a plaintiff represents several persons for whom the prejudicial case will have legal consequences. Class action suits may be individual class action cases, actions by organisations or public class actions. A class action case may cover claims that can be addressed by a general court in accordance with the rules of the Swedish Code of Judicial Procedure.

An individual class action can be invoked by anyone who has a legal claim that is comprised by the class action. An organisation class action can be invoked by an unincorporated association that represents and protects consumers’ and wage earners’ interests. A public class action can be invoked by an authority that, depending on the subject of the dispute, is suitable to represent the group. A group trial may also be initiated pursuant to the specific provisions in the Swedish Environmental Code.

A class action can be filed if:

  • the claims are based on circumstances that are mutual for the members in the class;
  • a class action does not seem inappropriate because some group members’ claims differ significantly from other group members’ claims;
  • a majority of the claims are not equally suitable to be invoked by each of the group members;
  • the group is deemed appropriate with regard to size, delimitation and other circumstances; and
  • the plaintiff is deemed suitable to bring a class action with respect to the plaintiff’s interest, economic conditions and other circumstances.

A class action involves all group members that, within a certain period, have notified the court that they want to be included in the group (an ‘opt in’ proceeding). The court is responsible for notifying and informing about the class action suit.

In general, the same rules apply for ordinary civil claims and class actions as regards the procedure. However, a class action can differ from ordinary proceedings in a few aspects. For instance, the court may designate a person as plaintiff, if the original plaintiff is no longer deemed to be suited for the task. A person that has been designated as a plaintiff to bring a class action has the right to receive compensation from public funds for litigation costs. The group members have no responsibility for the litigation costs in the proceedings. Exceptions to this main rule can be made in relation to a group member who negligently inflicts costs. In addition, contrary to ordinary litigation, the plaintiff’s counsel may enter into a ‘risk agreement’ with the plaintiff in respect of costs. The risk agreement may include a success fee, but it may not be based entirely on the value of the dispute. In order for a risk agreement to be valid, it must be in writing and be ratified by the court.