The Nature of the Time Limit for the Exercise of Claims for Loss or Damage to Goods under the Hague-Visby Rules – Limitation or Expiry?

The recent judgement no. 185/2024 of the 4th Section of the Murcia Provincial Court dated 8 February 2024, reviewing the case law referring to the nature of the one (1) year period for the exercise of claims for loss or damage during carriage by sea under a bill of lading established by the International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to Bills of Lading signed on 25 August 1924, as amended by the Protocols of 23 February 1968 and 21 December 1979, the Hague-Visby Rules, has taken a position in favour of the figure of expiry of time.

The aforementioned ruling therefore joins other rulings in favour of expiry of time, such as, for example, No. 269/2023 of 26 January 2023 of the 1st Section of the Provincial Court of Pontevedra, to which it refers to summarise the controversy. The latter, in turn, cites Supreme Court judgments No 328/1983 of 7 June 1983, No 43/1984 of 31 January 1984, No 339/1984 of 30 May 1984, No 56/1985 of 29 January 1985 and No 583/1985 of 11 October 1985, which declare that the time limit provided for in Article 3.6 of the Hague-Visby Rules is one of limitation.

Referring to other judgments which, on the contrary, have declared that this period is a limitation period and not an expiry period, the aforementioned judgment no. 185/2024 of the Murcia Provincial Court, which is the subject of this article, also agrees with the judgment of the Pontevedra Provincial Court of 26 January 2023 in that, although article 278. 4 and Article 286 of the Maritime Navigation Act, when regulating the contractual carrier’s recourse actions against the actual carrier and the actions arising from the charterparty, use the expression “limitation” not “expiry”, this should not lead to error since the Hague-Visby Rules are of preferential application to national regulations and their interpretation must be made in accordance with them. Hence, coinciding with the criterion of the judgement of the 28th Section of the Madrid Provincial Court nº 357/2021 of 14 October, the analysed judgement of the Murcia Provincial Court states that the scope of application of articles 278 and 286 of the Maritime Navigation Act must be redirected to the contract of carriage of goods by sea, excluding that which takes place under the bill of lading regime, which is subject to a limitation period.