When deciding to bring action against someone for sexual assault (or “sexual abuse”) it is important to know if your state has a provision that can bar you from doing so. Statute of limitations are laws that state a period of time in which one has to begin legal proceedings against another in civil or criminal cases. With the growing awareness of the mental and physical toll sexual abuse can cause, some states have worked to change their laws regarding the statute of limitations.
In 2012, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in Redwing v. Catholic of the Diocese of Memphis, that anyone who was abused as a child would no longer be barred from bringing action, if the church “misled” the victim or covered up the abusive behavior. Redwing v. Cath. Bishop for Diocese of Memphis, 363 S.W.3d 436 (Tenn. 2012). Redwing was a pivotal point for victims trying to state their claims decades after the abuse occurred. In 2019, New Jersey updated their laws so that anyone who was sexually assaulted as an adult, now has seven years to bring suit, previously it was two years. The New Jersey statue also permits those past the seven-year time a two-year look back window to bring suit against their assailants. Meaning, from the time the law was enacted, they have two years to bring action if their assault occurred more than seven years ago. Additionally, under the new statute, if the victim was underage, an action must be “commenced within 37 years after the minor reaches the age of majority, or within seven years from the date of reasonable discovery of the injury and its causal relationship to the act, whichever date is later.” N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:14-2a(a)(1). On May 24, 2022 , New York governor, Kathy Hochul signed the Adult Survivors Act. This Act allows anyone over the age of 18 one year to file a civil suit regardless of how long ago the crime took place. The Act gives those who were previously barred by the statute of limitations to have their story told and voice heard.
Although, in the majority of states, survivors are only able to bring civil action within about 2 or 3 years of the assault. This includes states like Kansas, Virginia, Tennessee, Oregon, etc. Connecticut is a unique exception, their current law allows a person to bring a civil suit any time after the crime has occurred, provided that the person at fault has been convicted of sexual assault in the first degree. Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 52-577e (2022). While some states only allow a brief time period to file suit, some of them have law with an additional provision that gives them time to file after they discover the injury that the abuse caused them, this is usually a way to give survivors more time to bring action.
In the majority of states, the statute of limitations for a sexual assault survivor to bring action against their abuser is longer if the crime occurred while they were a minor i.e., under the age of 18. However, some states only allow a survivor a few years to bring suit if the abuse occurred while they were under 18-years old. In Kansas, survivors have three-years to bring a civil action after they turn 18 or three years after they should have reasonably discovered that the assault caused injury or illness, whichever is later. Kan. Stat. Ann. § 60-523 (2011). In Florida, “An action related to an act constituting a violation of s. 794.011 involving a victim who was under the age of 16 at the time of the act may be commenced at any time.” Fla. Stat. Ann. § 95.11 (2018). There are states that allow survivors assaulted as a minor to bring suit for damages at any time. Utah's revised legislation allows anyone who suffered sexual abuse as a child, under the age of 18, to bring action at any time they decide to do so. Similarly, states such as Maine and Illinois allow actions for damages to be commenced at any time for someone who experienced sexual abuse as a child.
Overall, while some states are beginning to recognize the lasting trauma sexual assault can have on someone and expanding the limitations of when a victim can file suit, some have not yet done so. It is important to recognize that each state while similar to others, have differences in their laws and what they define as time to recover damages.
Bautista LeRoy LLC serves in Kansas City, MO and KS as well as surrounding areas of Benton County and St. Louis.