Law 2008-561 of June 17, 2008 enacted a reform of the statutes of limitations in civil and commercial matters.
Accordingly, under the ordinary rule of law, the statute of limitations in civil matters has gone from 30 years down to 5 years (Article 2224 Civil Code), and it has gone from 10 years to 5 years in commercial matters (Article L. 110-4 (I) Commercial Code).
Article 26 of the law dated June 17, 2008 contains transitional provisions aimed at settling issues in connection with the application of the new limitation periods in the event the statute of limitations has already begun to run.
When a claim has been brought before the entry into force of this law (i.e., before June 19, 2008, since the law took effect immediately upon its enactment), the action will be prosecuted and decided under the former law (including on appeal and final appeal). The lawsuit crystallizes the statute of limitation period so as not to weaken the imperative of legal security.
For statute of limitation periods that are underway, if no action has yet been brought, Article 26-II of the law provides that “[t]he provisions of this law that shorten the statute of limitations apply to limitation periods as of the date of entry into force of this law, provided that the total period may not exceed the duration provided under the previous law”.
Accordingly, the new statute of limitations begins to run as of June 19, 2008, but its length may not exceed that which applied under the former law.
For example, if the statute of limitations for a civil action had begun to run on January 1st, 2004, then the new limitation period of 5 years would begin to run from June 19, 2008, without the limitation period being able to exceed the previous period of 30 years. In this case, the total period would not exceed that under the previous law, and the action would be statute barred on June 19, 2013.
To give another example, if the statute of limitations for a commercial action had begun to run on January 1st, 2004, then the new period of 5 years would begin to run as from June 19, 2008, and could not exceed the former period of 10 years. Accordingly, this action would also be statute barred on June 19, 2013.
To give a last example, if the statute of limitations for a commercial action had begun to run on January 1st, 2000, then the new period of 5 years would begin to run as from June 19, 2008, and could not exceed the former period of 10 years. Accordingly, this action would have been statute barred since January 1st, 2010.
It is thus important to be particularly vigilant and bring any appropriate legal actions before June 19, 2013, to avoid the expiration of the statute of limitations for claims arising before the entry into force of this law.