How Long Do You Have to File a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit in Pennsylvania?

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

Victims of sexual abuse often find it difficult to come forward about what happened to them.  In many cases, victims of childhood sexual abuse do not fully know what happened until they are adults and better understand the situation.  Other times, pain and shame of what happened can stop people from coming forward, and it is only because others have come forward with their stories that people find the strength to report what happened to them and seek justice.  It is important to understand how long you have to file a sexual abuse lawsuit in Pennsylvania because there are hard legal limits on when you can come forward in most cases.  Pennsylvania institutional sexual abuse victims attorney Andrew Shubin explains.

Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Claims in Pennsylvania

Under Pennsylvania law – and under the laws of most states – most “torts” have statutes of limitations that dictate how long the victim has to file a civil lawsuit for wrongs they suffered.  These statutes of limitations are usually measured in years from the point in time when the victim suffered the wrongs they are seeking justice for.

Under PA law, the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse lawsuits is complex.  In 2019, a PA grand jury investigation unveiled more than 300 sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church dating, primarily, between 1970 and 2000.  This sparked overhauls of PA laws to give sexual abuse victims more time to sue since many of these victims were adults by the time and would have had a difficult time suing under then-current law.

PA Civil Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Cases

The legal changes, enacted in 2019, extended the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse victims in PA.  Current law gives these child victims until they turn 55 to file lawsuits (with a 37-year statute of limitations beginning to run when they turn 18).  Victims aged 18-24 at the time of the sexual abuse also have a long deadline that gives them until they turn 30 to sue.

However, these 2019 laws are not retroactive.  That means that if the abuse occurred before 2019 when the new laws were signed, the old statute of limitations applies.  Under that law, all adults (even adults aged 18-24) have 2 years from the date of the abuse to file their case and child victims have until they turn 30.

Does PA Have a Look-Back Window?

As of the writing of this article, PA has not enacted a look-back window like New Jersey’s sexual abuse look-back window.  Some states have instituted two-year windows in which any child sexual abuse case can be filed, regardless of how long ago the events took place.  If PA were to enact such a law, it could help victims seek justice even if the statute of limitations would normally bar their case.

PA Criminal Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Charges

For criminal charges for sexual abuse, PA eliminated the statute of limitations in 2019, meaning cases can be brought at any time.  Again, this law was not retroactive, so cases from before the new legislation must be filed under the old statute of limitations that says cases must come before the victim’s 50th birthday.

Filing a Civil Lawsuit for Old Sexual Abuse Allegations in Pennsylvania

Many people do not discover the abuse that happened to them until they are adults.  This is incredibly common, and it is one of the most common ways that civil sexual abuse claims are brought.  It is possible for adults to file lawsuits for abuse they suffered as children, and our attorneys can help.

One of the first hurdles to overcome in your case is the question of whether the statute of limitations bars your case or not.  If the statute of limitations on your case has not run out, you can file your claim and have it heard.  In some cases where the case would otherwise be blocked by the statute of limitations, certain rules and exceptions might help us file your case anyway.

First, the “discovery rule” often allows Pennsylvania civil lawsuits to proceed if the victim did not and could not discover the cause of what happened to them until recently.  In cases where the abusers or institutions responsible for sexual abuse intentionally hid evidence, the statute of limitations might also be extended.  However, this is not a guarantee.

Second, people who were disabled at the time of the abuse could have the statute of limitations extended.  Being a minor is one of the most common legal “disabilities,” and statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse claims are often paused until the victim turns 18 for harm they suffered as a minor.  However, that is already accounted for in the statutes of limitations listed above.  A “disability” can also include a physical or mental disability that prevents you from appreciating what happened to you.  For many disabled Pennsylvanians, this rule gives extra time to file a claim.

As long as your case is filed within the statute of limitations, you have additional time to handle the case in court.  However, it is important to make sure that any individual abusers and any institutions are included in the original claim because it might be difficult to add them to the case later if the statute of limitations expires in the meantime.

Call Our Pennsylvania Sexual Abuse Victim Lawyer for Help with Your Case

If you were sexually abused as a child or you have a child who has suffered sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, call our Pennsylvania sexual abuse victim attorney today.  The Law Office of Andrew Shubin represents survivors of sexual abuse by institutions and sexual abuse by clergy, camp counselors, teachers, and others in positions of authority.  For help with your case, call our lawyer today for a free, confidential legal consultation.  Our phone number is (814) 826-3586.


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