The Statute of Limitations to File Sexual Abuse Lawsuits in California

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

Victims of sexual assault are often left with deep emotional scars that last a lifetime. While many people do not come forward with their claims right away, there is a deadline by which claims must be filed.

The statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims is longer than other civil injuries. Even so, it is often regarded by victims as not nearly long enough. While these deadlines last for years, they differ for people who were abused as adults or children. A new law in California will eliminate the statute of limitation, allowing victims to file claims at any time. It might be possible to pause the clock counting down to the deadline, but this is available only under special conditions. If you are abused multiple times, which is common in abuse cases, the deadline may be based on the most recent instance of abuse. The statute of limitations for criminal charges is separate from civil claims, although these cases might be intertwined.

If you were sexually abused, call our California sexual abuse lawyers at The Law Office of Andrew Shubin at (814) 826-3586, and we can schedule a free legal review of your claims.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Lawsuits in California?

The statute of limitation is the law that places a time limit on when a plaintiff must file a claim. If the statute expires, so does the claim, and the plaintiff might be unable to take legal action. The statute of limitation for sexual abuse cases is complicated, to say the least. Not only does the time limit differ for adults and children, but the law is currently set to change.

Victims of Adult Sexual Abuse

The statute of limitations for adult victims of sexual abuse is found under Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 340.16(a). There are actually two possible deadlines under this law. If you are unsure which to apply to your situation, apply the one that gives you the longest time to file.

First, a person who was sexually abused as an adult has 10 years from the date of the incident to file a claim in civil court. Second, an adult victim must file their claim within 3 years of the date they discover the abuse or injuries from the abuse.

This can be a bit confusing. You might wonder how someone might not know they have been abused until some time after it happened. This is far more common than people realize. Abuse can be traumatic, and people often block these memories out or remember them incorrectly. It is not until years later, when someone else brings up the abuse, that they realize what happened.

Under this rule, you might have more than the standard 10 years if you did not discover the abuse until more than 10 years after it happened. Suppose you realized that you were sexually abused 12 years after it occurred. You would have 3 years from the date of discovery and a total of 15 years from the date of the abuse to file a claim in civil court.

Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse

The current statute of limitation for childhood sexual abuse civil claims is located under Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 340.1(a). Under the current rule, a person who experiences sexual abuse as a minor has 22 years from the day they turn 18 to file a civil claim. This means a potential plaintiff cannot file their claim past the age of 40.

Alternatively, you may file your claim for childhood sexual abuse up to 5 years after you realize that illness or injury resulted from the abuse. This might allow you to file a claim past the age of 40, but not by much.

Across the country, states are waking up to the fact that statutes of limitations on childhood sexual abuse are unfairly restrictive on plaintiffs. Many people do not come forward with their claims for decades. The new rule under Assembly Bill 452 in California eliminates the statute of limitation on childhood sexual abuse. As such, potential plaintiffs may file their claim at any time, no matter how much time has passed.

The new law is set to take effect beginning January 1, 2024. Unfortunately, the new law is not retroactive, meaning that it only applies to childhood sexual abuse that happens on or after January 1, 2024.

Pausing the Statute of Limitations on Your California Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

Statutes of limitations are not always completely rigid and unmovable. Under specific circumstances, you may persuade the court to toll the statute of limitation and buy you more time to file your case. Remember, unless your case meets certain exemptions set by law, you cannot have the statute tolled.

Often, plaintiffs can have the statute of limitations tolled if they experience some disability that prevents them from filing on time. Disabilities do not necessarily refer to a physical or medical condition, although they may be included. The disability might be anything beyond the plaintiff’s control that stopped them from filing.

One example of a disability is when the plaintiff lacks the mental capacity to file the case. If the plaintiff suffers from a mental health condition that hindered them from filing the case or understanding their legal rights after being abused, the statute of limitations may be tolled. The statute may be tolled until the disability subsides.

If the clock is running out on your claims, but you believe you experienced a disability or have another reason why the statute should be tolled, talk to our California sexual abuse lawyers about it. We can help you argue your case to the court.

What Happens to the Statute of Limitations in California if I Am Sexually Abused Multiple Times?

It is not uncommon for victims of sexual abuse to experience multiple instances of abuse. This is especially common in cases involving childhood abuse. Child victims are often abused multiple times over a span of years by an adult figure in their lives. When this happens, when does the statute of limitations begin to run?

In cases of child victims, the statute of limitations always runs from the day they turn 18. If a victim was abused multiple times on different dates by an abuser before they turned 18, the deadline to file begins to run on the day they turn 18.

However, if a person is abused as an adult on multiple occasions by an abuser, the statute of limitations might work differently in their case. For example, if a person is sexually abused by their romantic partner over a span of several years, the statute of limitations would not begin to run from the first instance of abuse. Instead, the deadline for your claim would begin to run starting from the most recent instance of abuse. For those who have experienced abuse over many years, this might help them get old claims into court.

Is the Statute of Limitations Different for Civil and Criminal Sexual Abuse Claims in California?

Criminal charges and civil claims often overlap, especially in cases involving sexual abuse. These types of claims often involve severe criminal offenses, and the defendant might not only be civilly liable but also criminally responsible. However, civil claims and criminal charges do not necessarily follow the same statute of limitations.

The criminal statute of limitation implicated in your case depends on the nature of the abuse. Abuse is a somewhat broad term that could encompass a wide variety of sexual offenses. Each offense might have a different statute of limitation. For example, the criminal statute for rape is similar to the civil statute of limitations. Prosecutors may file charges up until the victim turns 40 if they were a child when the rape occurred and it occurred on or after January 1, 2015. Meanwhile, criminal charges for sexual penetration with a foreign object must be filed by prosecutors within 8 years of the offense.

Whether or not criminal charges are ever filed, you may still bring a civil claim. If the statute of limitation on certain criminal charges has expired, that does not mean your civil claim is no longer viable. Even so, talk to your lawyer about when the abuse occurred. If criminal charges can still be filed, prosecutors might take an interest in your claim.

How New Laws in California Might Revive Your Old Sexual Abuse Claims

Across the country, state legislatures are reconsidering their statutes of limitation on civil sexual abuse claims. California is only the latest state to change the way it handles abuse claims. While the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse claims will be abolished as of January 1, 2024, this leaves many older cases up in the air.

The California Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act became effective on January 1, 2023. Under this act, sexual abuse claims occurring on or after January 1, 2009, that were time-barred before 2023 may be revived until December 31, 2026.

Additionally, claims may be revived because the defendants engaged in attempts to cover up the abuse. In such a circumstance, the expired claims may be revived until December 31, 2023. A cover-up may be a concerted effort by the defendant or others to hide the abuse or prevent the victim from coming forward. One example would be using non-disclosure agreements to stop victims from talking about the abuse they experienced.

Why Are Longer Statutes of Limitations Important in Sexual Abuse Cases in California

The statute of limitations in sexual abuse claims is very long compared to other kinds of injury claims. Deadlines on typical personal injury claims are usually only a few years, not decades. These deadlines are so long for good reason. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that victims of sexual abuse often cannot or will not come forward about the abuse for a long time.

Sexual abuse is an extremely difficult thing to deal with. Not only are victims badly physically hurt, but they often live with intense psychological and emotional turmoil and a deep sense of shame. Many victims wait so long to come forward because they are afraid of not being believed or accused of lying. Abusers should not benefit from the fear and shame they inflict upon victims, which is why the statute of limitations is so long.

Many victims are intimidated by their abusers. This is especially the case with child victims who might be intimidated, threatened, or frightened by their abusers into silence.

How to Begin a Sexual Abuse Claim in California Years After the Abuse Occurred

Beginning a sexual abuse claim can be incredibly difficult. For many, taking the first step to admit the abuse and talking to a lawyer is the hardest part of the process. Once you have taken that step, our team can help you prepare your complaint.

Every lawsuit begins with a formal legal complaint submitted to the court. The complaint should contain details about you, the defendant, and the abuse. This can be difficult because not only might you feel as if you are reliving the abuse, but many details of the abuse might be lost. If the abuse happened many years ago, your memory might not be as clear as you hoped, or you might have blocked out certain memories.

We must also have evidence of the abuse to back up your claims and show the court that your claims have merit. This can be incredibly difficult for those who were abused many years ago. Physical evidence is likely gone at this point, but other evidence might still exist. If a doctor treated you for injuries from the abuse, those medical records may be important evidence. We can also talk to people who might have known about the abuse for their testimony.

Call Our California Sexual Abuse Attorneys for Help Filing Your Case Before the Deadline

If you were sexually abused, call our California sexual abuse lawyers at The Law Office of Andrew Shubin at (814) 826-3586, and we can schedule a free legal review of your claims.


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