Statute of Limitations Reforms in Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
According to some studies, as many as one-third of all girls and one-fifth of all boys in the U.S. suffer from sexual abuse before the age of 18. Many victims of child sexual abuse understandably fail to disclose the abuse in its immediate aftermath. They may suffer from serious psychological conditions as a result of the trauma, such as PTSD or depression. These may take years or decades to overcome, if they are ever overcome at all. A substantial number of child sex abuse victims never disclose the abuse, and many others do not disclose it until they become adults.
This issue can create serious problems when victims try to bring personal injury claims against their abusers or the employers of their abusers. These cases are governed by statutes of limitations, which restrict the time in which a victim can bring a claim. This is a strict procedural deadline with very few exceptions. Failing to meet the deadline usually will result in a case being dismissed, regardless of whether it has merit.
Reforms to the Statutes of Limitations for Child Sexual Abuse
In response to a greater understanding of the effects of child sexual abuse, many states passed amendments extending or eliminating their statutes of limitations.
Historically, the inadvertent effect of the statutes of limitations was to allow most perpetrators of child sexual abuse to escape any liability for their actions. However, media attention to reports of abuse in the Boston Archdiocese in 2002 triggered a nationwide movement to adjust statutes of limitations to protect victims. Since then, the vast majority of states (and the District of Columbia) have amended their child sexual abuse statutes of limitations. These amendments typically lengthen the time window in which victims can bring claims by raising the age at which the statute of limitations expires. Certain states also provide look back periods of varying lengths in which victims of any age can bring claims.
Examples of Reforms to Statutes of Limitations
Laws regarding statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse frequently change. You should check the law in your jurisdiction to make sure that you have the most current information. Below are some examples of statutes of limitations in 2018.
In California, the statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim based on any type of child sexual abuse runs until the victim reaches age 26, eight years after the age of majority. A discovery rule also gives victims three years to file a claim after discovering an injury caused by the abuse.
In New York, the statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim based on felony child sexual abuse runs until the victim reaches age 23, five years after the age of majority. It runs until the victim reaches age 21 for cases of injury or negligence, and until the victim reaches age 19 for cases of vicarious assault or liability. New York does not use a discovery rule.
In Illinois, there is no statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim based on child sexual abuse.
In Texas, the statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim based on child sexual abuse is 15 years from the date of the abuse, regardless of the child’s age at the time.
Some statutes seek to account for the suppression of traumatic memories that often occurs in child sexual abuse cases.
In Florida, there is no statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim based on felony child sexual abuse. A victim must bring a civil claim based on misdemeanor child sexual abuse by age 25, seven years after the age of majority. The difference between felony and misdemeanor sexual abuse is whether the victim was younger than 16 (felony) or was 16 or 17 (misdemeanor).
In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim based on child sexual abuse runs until the victim reaches age 30, 12 years after the age of majority.