Saturday, June 29, 2013

What is a "Statute of Limitations" and How Does This Relate to a Claim for Sexual Abuse in California or other States?

A statute of limitations is a law set to put a maximum amount of time after an incident occurs to bring a claim for civil damages as a result of that event.  There are also criminal statutes of limitation which limit that amount of time that the state may pursue criminal charges from the date that an alleged crime occurred.  With regard to civil claims for victims of sexual assault or abuse, the statutes of limitation vary from state to state and depend upon a number of factors.  (For a full and complete summary of the various statutes, click here).

In California, the current limitation period is set by California Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 which provides for a time limit of either three years from the date of the incident or eight years from the injured party's 18th birthday (i.e. 26th birthday), whichever is later.  In addition, people over the age of 26 that have suffered childhood sexual abuse may "revive" their cause of action to bring a claim if they obtain a "certificate of merit" from an attorney in conjunction with a licensed mental health care provider (e.g. psychiatrist or psychologist) attesting that the case has merit.  There is a current bill pending before the California legislature that would go a step further and, potentially, eliminate that statute of limitation for sexual abuse claims altogether, however, this has not yet passed into law.

Why does the statute of limitation make it crucial for victim of sexual abuse to consult an attorney as soon as possible?

Until such time as the State of California eliminates the time limit to file claims, it is imperative that victims of sexual abuse seek out legal counsel as soon as possible.  The statute is very liberal and the "revival" period provides some relief if a person waits past their 26th birthday to pursue a claim, however, the statute of limitation will inevitably be raised as an "affirmative defense" to the claims which can potentially cause the case to be dismissed.  The other factor in play is that witnesses and other evidence of the sexual assault(s) may disappear with the passage of time making it much more difficult to prove up the claims and to obtain monetary compensation for the victim.  

It is always difficult for persons who have suffered at the hands of sexual predators to come forward and seek justice.  However, the whole purpose of the civil justice system is to provide a means for these victims to get some sense of vindication and closure by making the perpetrators of the crimes and, if possible, employers such as schools, churches, medical providers, mental health facilities and other institutions held accountable by also having to pay damages if they knew or should have known about the abuse and failed to take action to investigate and / or prevent it.

For assistance with any sexual abuse or sexual assault claim for damages in California, please visit our website here: