One of the functions and objectives of the legal system is to ensure the enforcing of rights and the protection of citizens’ interests. This guarantee is expressed in a variety of mechanisms that can be applied to protect these rights in case of their possible violation. For example, the law has given the opportunity for repudiation of contracts to seek compensation for damages or reimbursement of undue costs. However, implementing this protection and restoring fairness and legality requires activity, actions, claims, and not the inactivity of the holder of the right.
Civil legal relations are strongly influenced by the rule contained in Art. 110 of the Obligations and Contracts Act (OCA):
"With the expiry of the five-year limitation period all claims for which the law does not provide another limitation period shall be limited.”
This is the main statutory provision for the so-called limitation period, which is a statutory period, after which one claimant cannot enforce their claim against their debtors. The rights and obligations continue to exist, the debtor can still perform and pay what is due. The particularity comes from the fact that if the creditor files a claim before court to receive due payments, the debtor may object thereto that the five-year limitation period has lapsed and the court will dismiss the claim. Since limitation periods are common for many legal systems, which are familiar with their varieties, (Art. 194 Bundesgesetzbuch, Germany ,933 Allgemeines bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, Austria), a short list of the essential characteristics and a non-exhaustive list of the various limitation periods under Bulgarian law will be of practical benefit to anyone who wants to seek protection of their rights in Bulgaria. Our experience has shown that knowing the limitation periods, and the notion of what a limitation period i as a whole, proves extremely valuable in assessing the possibility of seeking legal protection in Bulgaria. Often one would be misguided by the limitation periods already familiar to them (e.g. those in Germany) and would not assess the risk of the possibility of a different limitation period stipulated in Bulgarian legislation.
While the general limitation period is five years, the law provides a number of special rules that will be addressed below.
Art. 111 OCA governs certain special rules for a shorter three-year limitation period, which applies to some specific claims:
- claims for compensation for remuneration, for which no other limitation period is provided - here it is important to clarify that these claims are not related to remuneration under employment contracts. Their limitation period is governed by the Labour Code, whereas the OCA covers fees in civil contracts, publishing contracts, public representation, contracts for translation etc.
- claims for damages and penalties resulting from a breach of contract - all claims related to damages arising from failure to meet contractual obligations are extinguished after three years;
- periodic payments - this rule covers all periodic payments that could be made for rental payments, telecommunication and utilities services.
Also included are penalties and interest as monthly accrued receivables; Also, the three-year limitation period is the general rule on claims for repudiation of contracts, with the exception of repudiation due to extreme necessity (where there is a one-year period).
In Bulgaria quite often promissory notes are issued as one of the most common securities in the country. For security reasons and the speed of turnover flow, a short three-year limitation period is established for claims against payers with a bill of exchange / promissory note - Art. 531 (1) CC. The deadline starts from the due date or the time of filing by the creditor and consequently the refusal of the payer to pay the amount due.
In forwarding contracts (contracts where the freight forwarder shall (against remuneration) conclude a contract for the carriage of cargo, in their own name for the account of a client) claims for damages shall be extinguished after a brief one-year limitation period - Art. 366 CC.
The general limitation period for damages claims under a transport contract is also a year - Art. 378 CC.
Of interest in the international exchange of goods is also a limitation period provided in the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods (CMR), which applies both in Bulgaria and, for example, Germany. Claims related to the transportation of goods, governed by CMR, are extinguished upon expiration of a one-year limitation period. However, in case of fraud or an error equated to fraud, the limitation period is three years.
All these deadlines are imperative and the parties cannot agree on their shortening, lengthening or discarding the limitation period before it expires (Art. 113 OCA). This means that the parties cannot agree among themselves that in a given legal relationship no limitation periods will apply, or that they will deviate from the statutory duration for the same obligations.
The general rule of Art. 114 (1) OCA regarding the starting point of the limitation period is that this is the day that the payment was due. Secondly, it is also settled when the limitation period for claims, for which there is no agreed maturity, starts, but which become payable by an invitation to the debtor. In this case the limitation period starts from the date on which the liability came into being, rather than from the time of the invitation. In the case of torts, the limitation period runs from the establishing of the perpetrator who committed the tort. And finally, under Art. 114 OCA, in case actions for penalties for late payment, the limitation period begins to run on the last day of the accrual period for the penalty.
Something which must be addressed is that between certain categories of persons this limitation period does not apply as long as they are in a relationship of children - parents, spouses, guardians or manager - trading company. Only with the discontinuation of this capacity the limitation period may once again commence or is yet to commence – argument from Art. 115 OCA. Also, if a creditor has a claim against their debtor, the limitation period is interrupted until the court comes out with a judgment. Depending on the judgment, the limitation period can continue from when it was interrupted with the filing of the claim, and if the court rules in favor of the creditor, they may proceed with immediate enforcement actions, which must also be taken within five years from the enforceable judgment.
The limitation period, unless stopped, can also be interrupted. The difference is that when it is stopped, the limitation period is “frozen” and once the cause of stopping is not valid anymore (e.g. the court grants an appeal), the limitation period continues to run from where it was stopped. When interrupted, the limitation period starts from the beginning and the statutory deadline should start running anew. Such interruption is regulated by the legislature in the following three cases:
- By recognition of a claim of the debtor - i.e. written or any other credible way of the debtor to recognize their obligation to the creditor. Again in the case of the tenant, if during the second year they recognize that they owe you lease payments, the limitation period is interrupted and you have statutory protection against further three years (not just one remaining until the expiration of the three-year limitation period).
- By submitting a claim, objection or request for a conciliation procedure. The specific issue here is that in case of failure to bring an action or if you have not managed to reconcile out of court, those limitation periods are not considered interrupted, but still ongoing and great care must be taken not to miss the opportunity for legal protection of your interests.
- By taking enforcement action is the third scenario, in which the limitation period is interrupted. As mentioned above, if you have a final judicial decision or enforceable out-of-court order, the start of enforcement actions terminate the limitation period, as it is deemed to have acted in defense of your rights.
The terms under insurance contracts are also specific:
Art. 378. (1) The rights and obligations under the insurance contract regarding insurance compensation shall lapse after three years from the date of occurrence of the insurance event date.
This is the general rule, the exceptions to which are listed below, where the legislature has provided a different limitation period. For example, rights and obligations under the following types of insurance contracts have a 5-year limitation period starting from the insurance date (Art. 378 (2) IC): "Life," "Accident," "Disease" and “Civil liability" insurance. “Civil liability for drivers" is the most common type of insurance in Bulgaria and where a person is compensated under a civil liability insurance, this person has five years, during which to seek protection from state authorities to receive insurance indemnity, not only three, as is generally the case under insurance contracts.
Compliance and monitoring of these deadlines is important not only for the work of attorneys but also for the contractual and non-contractual relationships of each person to be able to benefit fully from the legal protection of their own interests.