Pursuing claims

What sort of claims can be pursued before the courts? Are claims pursued before the courts limited in time? What actions interrupt the running of the limitation period? When can a court issue an order of payment?

What sort of claims can be pursued before the courts?

Generally, Polish law distinguishes three different types of actions:

  • Actions for performance (including damages)
  • Actions for a declaratory judgment (confirming some state of affairs)
  • Actions for a change of legal right or status.

The first category is the broadest and includes, among others, claims for payment, claims for release, claims for damages, claims to cease and desist, claims obliging a party to make a specific declaration, and so on.

Are claims pursued before the courts limited in time?

Under Polish law, all property claims (i.e. claims connected with proprietary rights, including monetary claims) are subject to a limitation period.

There are two basic statutes of limitation. Generally, all claims are subject to a 10-year limitation period, except for claims concerning periodic performance (i.e. recurring performances, most often monetary, due for a specified period of time, such as rent) and claims connected with commercial activity, which are subject to a three-year limitation period. It should be noted, however, that regulations concerning specific types of contracts often set shorter limitation periods (e.g. 12 months in the case of preliminary agreements). The limitation period begins to run from the time a claim accrues.

A claim reduced to a final judgment is always limited to 10 years (regardless of its commercial or non-commercial character or shorter limitation periods provided by law for the type of claim), with the exception of claims for periodic performance, which are always subject to a three-year limitation period, even when awarded by a court.

Claims in tort for damages are limited to three years from the time the person discovered the harm, but no longer than 10 years from the time the harm actually occurred or 20 years in case of harm suffered as a result of a crime, regardless of when the person discovered the harm. However, claims for compensation for personal injury cannot be barred by limitation before three years have passed since the injured party learned of the harm and the identity of the perpetrator.

The court applies the statute of limitations upon the raising of a statute of limitations plea by the defendant.

Can the parties modify the limitation period by contract?

Generally, the statute of limitations cannot be modified by the parties. However, it must be noted that the parties can always agree to postpone the date for discharging an obligation, which results in postponing the limitation date. Moreover, under Polish law, after hearing of a claim the limitation period starts to run anew. It is also possible to waive the statute of limitations plea, but only after the limitation period has already expired.

What actions interrupt the running of the limitation period?

Any action before a court or other competent authority undertaken directly to pursue, establish, satisfy or secure a claim interrupts the running of the limitation period.

This applies also to initiating mediation under the supervision of the court under the Civil Procedure Code or applying for a summons to a conciliation hearing. The interrupted limitation period begins to run again after completion of the proceedings.

It should be emphasised that the court takes into account the limitation of the claim only as a result of a defence raised by the opposing party. However, it is difficult to imagine that such charge would not be raised at trial if it could be effective.

What does compensation cover?

Under Polish law, damages are as a rule compensatory.

The assessment of damages in contract and tort law is based on the principle of full compensation. The person obliged to pay damages is liable only for the ordinary consequences of the act or omission from which the damage resulted. Compensation is considered to be actual loss and lost profits. The notion of actual loss (damnum emergens) includes all the damage that occurred and which can be evidenced. Lost profits (lucrum cessans) include all the benefits that could have been obtained had it not been for the act or omission complained of. Such benefits must, however, be shown to have been inevitable.

In more complex cases it is advisable to file an application for admission of expert evidence to support claims concerning the amount of damages, in order to avoid a situation where the court considers the evidence insufficient in this respect.

Damages include interest. Contract law allows interest to accrue from the date when the cause of action accrued, and in tort it accrues from the time the judgment is issued.

The parties can agree in a contract that in case of improper performance or non-performance of the contractual obligations, one of them will be entitled to a contractual penalty in a specified amount regardless of the damages suffered. In such case the damages take on a punitive character. The aggrieved party may seek damages exceeding the amount of the stipulated penalty only if such right is granted directly by the agreement of the parties.

It should also be noted that in some cases Polish law limits the damages to the “negative contractual interest,” i.e. the damage suffered as a result of a party counting on the conclusion of a contract. This applies for example in the case of preliminary agreements and bad-faith negotiations (culpa in contrahendo, i.e. negotiating without an intention to conclude a contract).

What types of court proceedings exist and how do they differ?

There are several types of proceedings: ordinary, enforcement, writ-of-payment or summary, and also—since 2010—electronic order-of-payment proceedings.

What cases are examined in summary proceedings?

Cases are heard in summary proceedings if the value of the claim does not exceed PLN 10,000 (about EUR 2,500). The procedure is simplified and contains numerous limitations, for example on the subject of the claim (only one claim can be pursued at a time unless several claims follow from one agreement or several agreements of the same kind), amendment of claims (inadmissible), and deadlines for submission of evidence. The pleadings must be submitted on official forms.

When can a court issue an order of payment?

An order of payment in proceedings by order of payment may be issued only if requested in the statement of claim and only if the claim is supported by specific types of documents provided by law.

In any case concerning a monetary claim, the court may issue an order of payment in “admonishment” proceedings. These proceedings resemble proceedings by order of payment with the difference that if an objection is effectively raised (without formal defects resulting in rejection), the order of payment lapses and the proceedings are continued under the ordinary procedure. If, on the other hand, an objection is not filed or is rejected for any reason, the order of payment has the effect of a final judgment.

What do electronic order-of-payment proceedings look like?

In electronic order-of-payment proceedings, the case is generally considered in the same way as in order-of-payment proceedings in the traditional form. The differences consist in enabling communication with the court and the opponent at a distance, for example, by making written submissions in electronic form. The court in these proceedings will also issue an order of payment, and if the court does not find the grounds to issue an order of payment it will refer the case for traditional proceedings. The case will also be referred for traditional proceedings if the defendant successful appeals against the order of payment.

In any case concerning a pecuniary claim a court may issue a writ of payment in so called admonishment proceedings. These proceedings resemble proceedings by writ of payment with the difference that in case of effective submission of an objection (which means that such objection is filed without any formal defects resulting in its rejection), the writ of payment loses its effectiveness and the proceedings are continued by way of the ordinary procedure. If, on the other hand, the objection is not filed or is rejected for any reasons, the writ of payment has the effect of a final judgment.

What do electronic writ-of-payment proceedings look like?

In electronic writ-of-payment proceedings the case is generally recognized in the same way as in writ-of-payment proceedings conducted in the traditional form. The differences consist in enabling communication with the court and the opponent at a distance, for example, by making written submissions in the electronic form. The court in these proceedings also issues a payment order, and if the court does not see the grounds to issue such order – it refers the case to be conducted in traditional proceedings. The same happens after a successful outcome of an appeal against the payment order.