No prescription runs against a person not able to act.
It is a settled principle that once the period of limitation is over the right to legal remedy is lost by the aggrieved party. The right to recovery however remains with them but the right to remedy is lost. This is based on the principle that law only favours those who are vigilant over their right and not sleeping over their right. However the maxim contra non valentem agere nulla currit praescriptio is an exception to the general rule. It states that the legal principle of the statutes of limitations cannot be made applicable against a plaintiff in certain cases. The situations of exceptions are stated as follows –
1. some legal cause has to be shown by the plaintiff which in turn prevented a court or its officer from acting on a plaintiff’s action,
2. there must be certain litigation related issues which prevented the plaintiff to act,
3. any act or omission of the defendant which made it impossible for the plaintiff to act in accordance,
4. the plaintiff is unaware of the damage or injury caused by the defendant and such ignorance should not be due to negligence, unreasonableness, or a willful act. In such cases the burden of the prove lies on the plaintiff
Contra non valentem agere nulla currit praescriptio is a Latin expression which literally means “a prescription does not run against one who is unable to act.” This maxim is generally used in favour of the plaintiffs. The maxim in other words stated that the period of limitations does not necessarily be used against the person filing the plaint. This maxim can find its roots in both civil and common law having its origin from the Roman law. It is generally an exception to the doctrine of prescription or limitation.
For example section five of the limitation act allows plaintiff to file the petition after the period of limitation along with the Condonation of delay petition. The Condonation of delay petition must contain sufficient cause for the delay according to the court.
In the case of Gunderao and Another v Venkamma and Others it was observed that a woman governed by Hindu Law can, although she has no right of succession to it, prescribe either for a limited or for an absolute estate. This does not take us very far in the case before us in which the real question for determination is where a woman who is governed by Hindu Law has entered on an estate as a qualified heir, can she subsequently prescribe by adverse possession an absolute title to it, Where a Hindu widow governed by Hindu Law has entered on the estate as qualified heir, she cannot subsequently prescribe by adverse possession an absolute title to it. Reliance was also placed on the maxim ‘contra non valentem agerenulla currit praescriptio’, i.e., prescription does not run against a man during the time when he is unable to act, i.e., to take immediate possession.
In the case of Ganda Singh and Others v Ram Narain Singh the court held that during the continuance of the mortgage, Gujjar Singh, the nearest heir of the mortgagor, could neither use nor other-wise enjoy the land under mortgage. Even if, there had been a dispossession of the mortgagees by a stranger, that would not have been treated as equivalent to an adverse possession as against Gujjar Singh who during the pendency of the mortgage, was merely entitled to a bare equity of redemption. Gujjar Singh, in view of the terms of this mortgage, can well rely upon the maxim Contra non valentem agerenulla currit praescriptio – prescription does not run against a party who is unable to act.
In the case of Devaki Amma Mookambi Amma v Meenakshy Amma Vijayama and Another the court held that possession, actual, open, notorious, exclusive and adverse for the statutorily prescribed period is one mode of acquisition of title recognised by the statute of limitation. Permissive possession precludes a claim for adverse possession. Possession is not adverse unless it is asserted against a person who is entitled to immediate possession. This is the principle of the Maxim, Contra non valentem agere nulla currit praescriptio (“No prescription runs against a person unable to bring an action”) Unless the person entitled to immediate possession is legally in a position to maintain an action for protecting his possession, period for prescribing a title by adverse possession does not commence.These principles accepted by the decisions referred to above apply to the facts of this case. The plaintiff’s right to protect his possession of the properties that were allotted to his share arose only on 30-7-1962 when the decree was passed. Any invasion of his right to possession could have been legally protected in a Court of Law only after the decree of Court under S.17 of the Arbitration Act, not earlier. The time started running against the plaintiff only from 1962 and the possession of the 1st defendant, adverse to the plaintiff, till the filing of the suit on 20-12-1971 was not sufficient to constitute the 12 years required for acquiring prescriptive title.
Edited by Vigneshwar Ramasubramania
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
 Gunderao and Another v Venkamma and Others, AIR 1955 HYD 3
 Ganda Singh and Others v Ram Narain Singh, AIR 1959 PUNJAB 147
 Devaki Amma Mookambi Amma v Meenakshy Amma Vijayama and Another, AIR 1990 KER 37