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How Statutes of Limitations Impact Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

One of the major issues in a sexual abuse lawsuit is the fact that the statute of limitations may have passed. In many states, this could prevent the victim from filing a lawsuit unless they do it within the time allowed by the court. The problem is that many victims either are not able to speak out right after they experience the abuse or may not even fully recall it until the repressed memories emerge later in life.

When that happens but the claim is barred by the statute of limitations, it creates a situation that seems to be harsh and unfair to those who have already suffered enough. However, many states are now changing their laws to allow victims much more time to file a sexual abuse lawsuit.

Emerging Liberal Interpretations of Statute of Limitations

In the past, some states were more liberal with statutes of limitations in sex abuse lawsuits than others. In some states, sex abuse lawsuits had the same time limit as other personal injury actions, making it very difficult for victims to file lawsuits against their abusers. Other states had more victim-friendly statutes of limitations. However, even these expanded time deadlines still kept many victims from successfully suing.

The greater awareness of and focus on sex abuse has changed the way that many states view these statutory deadlines. The heightened sensitivity called attention to the fact that victims might not be in a position where they could either speak out or take action about their abuse in time to receive a judgment against their accuser. At the same time, the abuse scandals that rocked major institutions called attention to the sheer scope of the problem.

How Illinois Has Address SOL Issues in Sex Abuse Cases

Over the past several years, there has been a rush of states that have passed and signed legislation either expanding the statute of limitations or removing it entirely. Illinois has been one of the states that has taken this action, and it was one of the earlier states to make this change.

In 2013, Illinois passed a law that completely eliminated the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases for both criminal and civil actions. Before that, there was a statute of limitations of twenty years for civil cases. The problem with this deadline was that victims may not even remember fully what happened to them within twenty years of the abuse, especially if it occurred when they were at a very young age.

States have taken different approaches to dealing with this issue. While Illinois has permanently removed the statute of limitations, other states have temporarily waived it for a defined time period. For example, California has waived the statute of limitations entirely for a three-year period that began on January 1, 2020. After that the state has raised the age of the statute of limitations until the victim turns 40 years of age. This statute of limitations increase depends on the age of the plaintiff as opposed to the amount of time that has passed since the alleged abuse.

This is consistent with the approach taken by many other states, both temporarily waiving the statute of limitations and raising the age to sue. Some states, such as California, have also instituted new provisions of their laws that provide for additional damages in the lawsuit proves that there was a cover-up of the abuse.

States Recognizing Issues With Adult Abuse Survivors

At the end of 2019, there were fifteen states that took some form of action to give victims a greater right to sue. Illinois was not among these states because it had made its changes to the law back in 2013. There are additional states that are considering changes to their laws in the interests of fairness to the victims and as there is greater awareness of sexual abuse.

Those who have been abused can take civil action not only against their abuser but also against the organization that employed or gave the means to the abuser to commit their crime. This means that many organizations that have a history of abuse and cover-ups may now be the defendants in civil lawsuits. The liability in these lawsuits can be considerable, and it can add up.

Financial Impact of Relaxed Statute of Limitations on Organizations

For many organizations, these changes to the law have meant that they face a grave financial crisis from the potential liability that they face. For example, groups such as the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church have a history of sex abuse within their ranks. The new laws mean that they can be held liable for abuse that occurred decades ago. Many of these organizations have declared bankruptcy in order to be able to manage some of their liability while continuing to operate. The organizations claim that they will use their assets to pay claims although the bankruptcy proceedings are still at their outset.

Victims can now receive compensation for the horror that they endured. It may not erase the nightmare that many of these victims have been dealing with for decades, but compensation can at least go part of the way towards giving these victims some justice. Contact the attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers to find out how you can file a lawsuit in connection with sexual abuse that you have experienced.