On the 14th March 2020, the Spanish legislature published Royal Decree 463/2020 declaring a state of alarm throughout Spain as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Amongst the exceptional measures approved by this new law, was the suspension of time limits for all claims.
What this means is that time limits for any type of claim in Spain have been frozen from the 14th March 2020 until the state of alarm ceases to be in force (which will take place next 24th May, unless a new extension is approved by the Spanish Parliament).
Once the state of alarm has been lifted, the time limits will be revived for the equivalent time that was left to run prior to the 14th March. This revival of the time limit is not a rerun of the full-time limit period. Further, once the time limits have been revived, they will be governed by the same rules that applied prior to the state of alarm.
So, how does this suspension impact on cargo claims arising from carriage by road?
The legal framework for these claims in Spain is the CMR Convention for international carriage and Law 15/2009 for the Contract of Carriage of Goods by Road for domestic haulage.
In general terms, the rules governing the time limits for claims under international and domestic rules are very similar. Consequently, the suspension will affect claims under both sets of rules in the same way.
That said, and in relation to how the suspension impacts on these claims, there are 4 different scenarios to consider:
(1) Claims where the time limit expires during the state of alarm:
For example, a claim that time barred on the 18th March 2020 (4 days after the declaration of the state of alarm). According to the rules in place at this time, once the state of alarm is officially lifted, the claimant will have only 4 days from the day after the lifting of the state of alarm to protect the time limit.
(2) Claims where the time limit expires after the state of alarm has been lifted:
Some believe that the suspension does not apply to these claims, given that they are of the view that the suspension was intended as an exceptional measure to only protect those time limits that expired during the state of alarm.
However, most legal commentators focus on the fact that the law does not distinguish between time limits or any potentially differing scenarios. Accordingly, the view here is that once the suspension is lifted, the new time left for protecting the claim will include the time elapsed from 14th March to the date the state of alarm was officially lifted.
Again, by way of example, a claim that expires on the 15th June 2020 and where the state of alarm is lifted, say on the 1st of June, according to the minority view, the time limit does not change. It expires on the 15th June. Taking the majority view, the time limit expires on the 3rd September 2020, counting the 80 days of suspension running from the 14th March to the 1st June 2020.
(3) New claims arising during the state of alarm:
Here the situation appears to be clear, any time limit is only triggered once the state of alarm has been officially lifted.
(4) Rejection of claims during the state of alarm:
The revival of the time limit as a result of the rejection of the claim by the carrier, as established by the CMR Convention and domestic law, will only take effect the day after the lifting of the state of alarm, and not from the date that the rejection is received by cargo interests.
The freezing of the time limits for claims during the state of alarm in Spain applies to those claims arising from the carriage of goods. So, each claim should be properly reviewed regarding time limits and strategy. It should also be noted that though some claims may now be time barred in other jurisdictions, the suspension due to the state of alarm in Spain may allow cargo interests to pursue those claims in Spain. And equally significant for both carriers and cargo is that at this time, a rejection is not a rejection until the state of alarm is lifted, so that claimants have more time to protect the time limit prior to the lifting of the state of alarm.
Author: Luis Alberto García (Partner)