How Long Do You Have to File a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit?
The enraging and tragic reports of child sexual abuse that have emerged since the start of the century have led to a growing number of lawsuits against institutions such as the Catholic church.
Not only is the perpetrator of sexual abuse criminally and civilly liable for their actions, their employer can be sued too.
Many sexual abuse victims have been able to get some measure of justice, even though money cannot undo the harm that someone did to them that has lasted a lifetime.
However, there is not an unlimited ability to sue the perpetrator in a civil case. While Illinois has a relaxed statute of limitations that makes it easier for child sex abuse to sue, there still are some limits.
If you were the victim of childhood sexual abuse, you should contact an attorney to discuss the possibility of a sexual assault lawsuit.
Many States Have Relaxed Statutes of Limitations
States have adopted one of three approaches to statutes of limitations in the wake of the revelations of sexual abuse:
- Some states have made no changes to their existing laws regarding the statute of limitation. Either the existing law already accommodated child sexual abuse lawsuits, or the state simply did not want to make a change.
- Other states lengthened their statutes of limitations and made changes to make it easier for victims with repressed memories to sue.
- Finally, some states allowed for a temporary pause to the statute of limitations to permit abuse victims to sue no matter when the abuse occurred. For example, New Jersey's civil statute was temporarily suspended for several successive two-year periods. These changes have allowed thousands of victims to pursue justice for abuse that happened decades ago that they previously could not obtain because of civil laws.
Limits on Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
Illinois has joined the growing list of states that have changed their laws to help the sexual abuse survivor seek justice. However, there are still limits on the ability to file a lawsuit.
The laws are different for child sexual abuse to aid people in filing lawsuits for abuse that they may not have been able to come forward about as a child.
The policy behind the enhanced statute of limitations is straightforward. Most children who were the victims of sexual assault and sexual violence are not able to come forward as children. They may feel that they will not be believed, or they may be afraid of the perpetrator. Some children try to bury memories of sexual abuse, and they do not reemerge until later in life.
The law wants you to get justice. A criminal lawsuit can only do so much. While the perpetrator should face justice for sexual battery and assault, that is only part of the picture. Victims of sexual assault should also have the right to sue.
Limits on Sexual Assault Lawsuits
Much of the recent focus has been on childhood victims of sexual abuse, since that has been in the news for the past two decades. However, every day, there are adults who are the victims of sexual assault.
Even though the attacker could be subject to criminal charges, this is not the end of their legal responsibility for an unwanted sexual act. Any victim can also civilly sue their attacker.
For sexual assault of adults, there are two different rules for the statute of limitations:
- For certain classes of sex assaults, including criminal sexual assault, there is no statute of limitations, meaning that a sexually assaulted victim can sue at anytime.
- Otherwise, the usual Illinois personal injury statute of limitations would apply, meaning that a victim would have two years from the date that the incident occurred to file a lawsuit.
The Statute of Limitations Includes Suing a School District
Some instances of sexual abuse occur in the school setting. You have the legal ability to sue a school district because the government is not immune from certain types of lawsuits. Normally, there is an accelerated deadline to sue the government in a civil lawsuit. In a case against an Illinois government, you would have a year to file a claim.
However, Illinois courts have held that the one-year deadline to file a civil lawsuit against the government does not preempt the regular statute of limitations, which gives a sexually abused victim 20 years from the date that they turn 18 to seek compensation.
When You Can File Civil Lawsuits
If you were the victim of any type of sexual abuse or assault, you can seek compensation. You can file a lawsuit against the following:
- Your assailant
- The parish or archdiocese where they worked
- The school district that employed them
All the parties involved can be held liable if they oversaw the attacker. They did not even have to fail to prevent the attack. If you are filing a lawsuit against the Catholic church, it would not matter how the defendant acted.
It just matters that their employee sexually abused you. Of course, if you can prove that church officials knew of the abuse and did nothing about it, you may be in a better position to obtain punitive damages.
If you were assaulted on the premises of another, you can file a claim for negligent security. However, that form of civil trial has the same statute of limitations as the usual personal injury case.
A Sexual Assault Victim May Have Repressed Memories
A sexual abuse victim may not completely recall the sexual assault incident. They may have buried the memories. After some time or treatment, the memories may come to the fore. Sexual assault civil statutes do not penalize the victim by starting the time clock exactly at the time that they have turned 18.
Note that the deadline to file a civil case can also start 20 years after the time that you knew or should have known that you were abused. Therefore, you have 20 years from the date that the repressed memory came to the fore.
However, the court will ask questions about why you did not realize immediately that you were the victim of childhood abuse. If you could have taken certain steps to learn of your abuse and did not, a court may not accept repressed memories as one of the number of legal theories why the statute of limitations should not have started to run.
However, there have been recent examples of cases that have settled that involved abuse allegations that date as far back to the 1960s. For instance, two Chicago men recently settled a case that involved Norbert Maday, who was alleged to have abused many children over a prolonged period of time.
Lawsuits have alleged that he molested 14 children at a total of six parishes over a 20-year span. These cases would obviously deal with repressed memories to fall within the statute of limitations.
Victims of Sexual Assault Should Not Miss Any Deadlines
The penalty for missing the deadline to file a civil suit is harsh. If you miss the statute of limitations, you will lose the right to seek justice for the alleged offense. You will not even get your day in court. Instead, your case will be dismissed before the judge will hear it on the merits.
The statute of limitations is a matter of jurisdiction. The court only has the ability to hear the case at all within the relevant timeframe. If that deadline is missed, the court does not have the legal ability to hear the case.
If the defendant believes that the plaintiff has missed the statute of limitations, they will file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The court would need to rule on this motion before anything else happens in the case. If the court does not grant the motion, a civil suit would proceed to discovery and then trial.
Sexual Assault Cases Are Different
Criminal prosecutions and sexual assault lawsuits obviously seek to achieve different aims. In a criminal trial, the defendant's freedom is at stake. There is a much higher standard necessary because, if convicted, the defendant will end up behind bars.
A civil trial will be for monetary compensation. While a civil penalty is still very important, both to the victim and accused, there is a lower standard of proof.
Unlike criminal charges, a civil lawsuit must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. This is the same thing as saying that your allegations must be more likely than not to be true.
Prosecutors Have an Unlimited Amount of Time to File Criminal Charges
Unlike a civil claim, where there is a time limit to file a case, there is now no limit whatsoever for prosecutors to open a criminal case against the accused perpetrator. This is the result of a recent change to Illinois laws in response to a surge in reports of abuse committed by clergy members decades ago.
State law was recently amended to completely eliminate a statute of limitations when the wrongful act is sexual abuse or assault. The district attorney can file charges against the alleged perpetrator in a corresponding criminal case even decades after the sexual assault occurred.
Following appalling and horrific accounts of childhood sexual assault, lawmakers wanted to expand the ability of law enforcement to punish a sex crime.
They did not want perpetrators getting away with an unwanted sexual act or attempted act because of the passage of time. Prosecutors may still have a challenge to prove guilt in a criminal prosecution when the sex crime occurred long ago.
Civil Damages for Sexual Assault or Abuse
When you are able to prove the defendant liable, you may receive the following damages in a sexual assault case:
- Payment for emotional distress
- Medical bills if you require ongoing physical or mental health treatment
- Lost wages if the trauma has reduced the amount that you can earn at work
- Pain and suffering for the depression and anxiety that you continue to feel
- Wrongful death damages if your family member took their life in the aftermath of the sexual assault or abuse
The psychological injury after one has been sexually assaulted can be severe. Sexual assault victims can recover financially for all of their damages. Some sexual abuse lawsuits have resulted in settlements of up to $2 million and jury awards of even more.
Sexual Abuse Cases Are Difficult for the Victim
We understand that it takes a lot for you to come forward. You may have spent years trying to recover from the abuse as best as you can, only to have to remember it now.
This is another reason why time limits for sexual abuse victims to file a lawsuit is extended. It is hard to tell someone that they have to act immediately when acting at all can be traumatic and bring back extremely haunting memories.
However, you still need to be conscious of time deadlines because of the consequences of missing it. You could lose your right for civil justice, even if the perpetrator can still be criminally charged with the abuse.
Contact an Attorney to File a Civil Lawsuit
If you are a victim of childhood sexual abuse or sexual violence, you can file a lawsuit in civil court against your abuser and any company for which they worked. You do not have to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Call the attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers for a free case evaluation. At your free consultation, we will speak with you to establish some of the facts in your case and advise you whether you have legal recourse.
Our law firm has worked with sexual abuse survivors and understands that this is a very difficult process for you. Throughout our attorney client relationship, we strive to provide you with legal help and moral support for what is undeniably hard, as you may relive a traumatic event in your life.
Call our law firm today at (888) 424-5757 or contact us online to begin work on your sexual assault lawsuit. You do not owe us anything unless we help you win your case. This may be a tough call for you to make, but it is necessary to begin the process of holding your abuser or attacker accountable.