LIMITATION, a certain time prescrib ed by statute, within which an action most be brought, which is generally twofold ; first in writs, by several acts of parlia ment, and, secondly, to make a title to any inheritance, and that is by the com mon law.
On penal statutes, all actions, suits, bills, indictments, or informations, for any forfeiture limited to the king, his heirs or successors only, shall be brought within two years after the offence committed, and not after. All such actions, Ste. ex cept the statutes of tillage, which give the penalty to the king and a common in former, are limited to one year next after the offence committed ; and if not sued for by the informer, they may be sued fbr by the king, any time within the two years, after that year is ended : and where a shorter time is limited by any penal sta tute, the prosecution must be within that time 31 Eliz. c. 5.
All actions of trespass, of assault, bat tery, wounding, imprisonment, or any of them, arc to be commenced within four years next after the cause of such actions or snits, and not after : 21 James I. c. 16. All actions of trespass, quare clautunt fee ; all actions of trespass, detinue, tro ver, and replevin ; all actions of account, and upon the case, (other than such ac counts as concern the trade of merchan dise between merchant and merchant); all actions of debt, grounded upon any lending, or contract without specialty (that is, not being by deed or under seal); all actions of debt for arrearages of rent ; and all actions of assault, menace, bat tery, wounding, and imprisonment, shalt be commenced within the time and limi tation as followed', and not after : that is to say, the said actions upon the case (other than for slander), and the said ac tions for account, and the said actions for trespass, debt, detinue, and replevin, and the said action for trespass quare clautum fregit, within six years after the cause of such action : 21 James I. c. 16. In all
these statutes there is an exception in re lation to infants, lunatics, and femes co verts, allowing them a further time after they are in a situation which enables them to sue. As to the exception with respect to merchants' accounts, it extends to ac tions on accounts current only, in which the giving credit on one side is an ac knowledgment of the debt on the other ; but when the account is settled between merchant and merchant, it must be sued for like any other debt ; and if all the ar ticles are on one side, the account is not taken out of the statute. An acknowledg ment of the debt prevents the operation of the statute of limitations, and also a payment upon account ; but as it is con venient that suits should not be delayed so long that vouchers cannot be produced, settlements should regularly be enforced. A writ also may be sued out to save the statute of limitation, as it is called, and though never sued, yet, if it is regularly entered, and continued upon the record, the suit may be effectually prosecuted long after, and being commenced within time, the action may be maintained out. This is in conscience rather a mode of evading the statute. It is generally considered as defence to rely upon the statute, when the party has the actual means of knowing whether the debt is due, and therefore a very slight acknowledgment removes the objection to the suit.