General Limitation Periods in Civil & Commercial matters in the UAE

The UAE Federal Law No. 5 of 1985 (the “UAE Civil Code”) contains general rules relating to limitation periods. In general, as per Article 473 of the UAE Civil Code, the claim is time-barred after 15 years, unless a specific provision states otherwise. However, there are many exceptions to the general rule. Several statutes contain specific limitation periods for different types of dispute. In addition, there are several specific provisions dealing with time bars under UAE Federal Law No. 18 of 1993 (the “UAE Commercial Code”) regarding commercial procedures.

Subject to the exceptions, the limitation periods are generally:

  • 15 years for contract disputes.
  • 3 years for disputes relating to cheques.
  • 3 years for insurance disputes.
  • 3 years for causing harm (tort).
  • 10 years for building contracts (defects).
  • 1 year for carriage of goods by sea.
  • 1 year for employment-related disputes.

In respect to commencing proceedings for commercial obligations, the general time limit – which includes debts and claims for breaches of contract – is 10 years from the due date for performance. This time limit is found at Article 95 of the UAE Commercial Code which provides that:

When denied, and in the absence of lawful excuse, actions relating to the obligations of traders to each other and in connection with their commercial business shall not be heard upon the expiry of ten years from the due date for fulfilment of the obligation, unless the law provides for a lesser period.

It is a feature of UAE law that there are different time limits applicable to numerous types of claim. As such, the simple ten year limitation period imposed by Article 95 of the UAE Commercial Code cannot safely be assumed to apply universally. One possible exception to the application of the ten year limitation period is claims by engineers, architects and other construction professionals for their fees.

This exception arises by virtue of Article 475 of the UAE Civil Code, which provides, as follows:

If denied, and in the absence of lawful excuse, no claim shall be heard in respect of the following rights after the passage of five years:

(1) rights of doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, engineers, experts, professors, teachers and brokers, if such rights are due to them by reason of professional services rendered, or by reason of disbursements incurred,

(2) monies reclaimable by reason of overpayment of taxes of duties, but without prejudice to the provisions of the special laws.

Engineers” for the purpose of Article 475 of the UAE Civil Code, most likely could include architects and quite possibly other construction professionals.

As Article 475 of the UAE Civil Code does not clearly specify whether such professionals need to be registered in the UAE or not for such limitation to apply; it can be assumed that such limitation period will also apply to professionals who provide such professional services in the UAE, even though they are not registered in the UAE.

The above limitation periods are general in nature, which may accordingly be applicable on a case to case basis.