The Statute of Limitations for a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Against a College or University

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

Most cases are governed by a law called the statute of limitations that dictates how long a victim has to bring a lawsuit for the conduct.  Each state has its own rules, and it is important to know how long you have to bring your case if you are considering filing a claim against a college or university for sexual abuse.

Rules vary from state to state, but most states give between 2 and 4 years.  Some states have very long statutes of limitations when it comes to cases involving child sexual abuse, and some have even done away with the statute of limitations entirely for child victim cases.  However, most cases in colleges and universities will involve adults, and only some states have additional extended deadlines for younger adults to file.

For a free review of your potential case, call the institutional sexual abuse lawyers at The Law Office of Andrew Shubin today at (814) 826-3586.

Statutes of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Claims Against Colleges and Universities

In most states, the statute of limitations for sexual abuse is 2 to 4 years.  Very few have shorter deadlines than 2 – notably Arkansas.  In that state, assault and battery cases – which cover many sexual abuse cases – must be filed within a year of the events.  A few states do allow 5 or 6 years to file.  However, special rules might exist for discovery issues, for child victims, and for young adults under a certain age.

This is an area of the law that is currently in flux, with many states changing their rules to give sexual abuse victims more time to come forward.  It is vital to have an institutional sexual abuse lawyer review your case to ensure that you get the opportunity to file your case should new laws potentially be in the pipeline in your state.

Discovery Exceptions

When it comes to statutes of limitations, the question of when the victim has “discovered” the abuse and its cause is sometimes an issue in computing the statute of limitations.  Victims can often suppress traumatic events and be unaware that they were in fact abused until years later.  If drugs or alcohol were involved and the victim was unaware of the abuse taking place, they again might not be able to discover the abuse until later.

In some cases, especially with child victims, discovery rules allow the victim additional time to file.  Often, the statute of limitations is “tolled” or paused so that the time period does not begin until after the abuse is discovered.

Child Victims

Colleges and universities typically have adult students and workers.  However, institutional sexual abuse cases involving minors at colleges have indeed occurred, such as the Penn State child abuse scandal involving Coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of minors at the university.  Additionally, children could be involved in sports or educational camps as well as educational programs for high school students.  Many college students also start college before turning 18, and guests and visitors to the campus could certainly be underage.

In any case, many states have special rules for child sexual abuse victims that give them long deadlines to file their case.  Most states first toll the statute of limitations from running until they turn 18.  Minors usually cannot file lawsuits without the help of a parent, so giving them until they turn 18 and have a better legal understanding of their rights is important.  Many states also have long statutes of limitations allowing decades for child victims to come forward.

Some states, such as Vermont, have eliminated the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, giving victims as long as they need to file.  Some states have also created “lookback windows” that suspend the statute of limitations, allowing victims whose cases might have been time-barred to come forward and file their case for a limited time.

Young Adults

Some states create special rules for adults who are over 18 but still might not have the mental and emotional development to understand the extent of what happened to them or their legal right to seek justice through the courts.  For example, Pennsylvania has a longer statute of limitations for victims aged 18 through 24 that gives them until they turn 30 to file their case.  As another example, Washington, D.C. gives victims under 35 until they turn 40 to file.

Special Rules Deadlines to Sue Colleges and Universities for Institutional Sexual Abuse

When it comes to lawsuits against a college or university, there may be special rules that apply.  In most cases, these laws will shorten the time you have to bring your case, so you should be extra aware of these rules and contact a lawyer as soon as you can to avoid losing your chance to file your case.

Public Entities

Many states have rules that require shorter deadlines to sue the government.  States will also commonly have “notice” rules that require you to give the government notice that you will be suing them – and the notice deadline is often shorter than the deadline to file the lawsuit.

This means that if you were abused at a public college or university, you could be subjected to shorter deadlines.

Limitations on Claims Against Third Parties

Some states have rules that limit liability for colleges, universities, schools, and other institutions to shut down some claims where the institution was not directly involved in the abuse or its coverup.  In these cases, the institution is treated as a third party, and the statute of limitations is sometimes shorter.

A college that knowingly hired an abuser or ignored previous complaints about sexual abuse could be jointly liable for the abuse because of their own negligence in the matter.  When the school is actively involved in the abuse like this, states rarely shorten or limit liability.

In some cases, you can use a legal principle called “respondeat superior” to hold an employer liable for its employee’s conduct on the job.  This could potentially allow you to sue the university or college when a staff or faculty member commits abuse, even if the school did not know about the abuse or do anything wrong in its own right.

This second category is the kind of case where some states – like Maryland – place additional restrictions on the lawsuit.  Sometimes these are statute of limitations restrictions, but restrictions might also require a higher level of fault or involvement on the part of the university for a lawsuit to be successful.

Call Our Institutional Sexual Abuse Lawyers Today

If you or a loved one faced sexual abuse at a college or university, call (814) 826-3586 for a free case review with The Law Office of Andrew Shubin’s institutional sexual abuse lawyers.


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