Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Prescription Definition:

A method of acquiring or extinguishing rights through the inaction of the legal owner.

Related Terms: Limitations or Statute of Limitations, Peremption, Temporal Jurisdiction

Mostly a civil law term, the common law equivalent being statute of limitations or just limitations.

When used in a real property context, the term refers to the acquisition of property rights, such as an easement, by long and continued use or enjoyment.

The required duration of continued use or enjoyment, before legal rights are enforceable, is usually written in a state’s law known as statute of limitations.

Legal rights can expire through the efflux of time by prescription, aka limitations.

In the civil law jurisdiction of Québec, the Civil Code of Quebec has a whole "Book Eight" dedicated to Prescription starting at §2875:

"Prescription is a means of acquiring or of being released by the lapse of time and according to the conditions fixed by law...."

The Civil Code of Louisiana also refers to limitations as prescription as does the English language version of the Civil Code of France.

In Yen v. Avoyelles Parish Police Jury, Madam Justice Shannon Gremillion of the Court of Appeal of Louisiana wrote:

"[P]rescription is ... a mode of barring of actions as a result of inaction for a period of time.... In other words, prescription sets a time limit within which one is allowed to seek enforcement of a right. Prescription under the Civil Code may be suspended, or interrupted by the filing of suit against a solidary obligor or a joint tortfeasor or by acknowledgment of the obligee's right... Prescription, once it has tolled, can be renounced."

For an example of an analogous statute in a common law jurisdiction, consider British Columbia's Limitation Act which states, amongst other limitation periods, and as of 2007, and at ¶3(2) {extract only}:

"After the expiration of 2 years after the date on which the right to do so arose a person may not bring any of the following actions:

  • (except for sexual torts), damages in respect of injury to person or property, including economic loss arising from the injury, whether based on contract, tort or statutory duty;
  • trespass to property;
  • defamation;
  • false imprisonment; (and)
  • malicious prosecution...."

French: prescription.


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