Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Lawsuits in Missouri

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

A statute of limitations is a law put in place to set an outside time limit on how long someone has to sue.  Criminal cases also have these laws, but there are usually separate standards governing how long an abuse victim has to step forward and file a civil case for what happened to them.

In Missouri, sexual abuse victims usually have only 2 years to file their cases, but victims abused as children have until they turn 31 years old.  Additionally, this deadline can be extended further if they were not aware that their symptoms or injuries were caused by sexual abuse.  In this case, they have 3 years from the date they discover the cause to sue.  Additionally, Missouri legislators have proposed and attempted to pass legislation extending the deadline another 10 years for victims of childhood sexual abuse.

If you were sexually abused as a child or as an adult, call The Law Office of Andrew Shubin’s lawyers for victims of sexual abuse in Missouri today at (814) 826-3586.

Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse of an Adult in Missouri

Missouri laws for sexual abuse of an adult include relatively short time limits of only 2 years.  This comes under the rules for “battery” under § 516.140, RSMo.  While you might be familiar with “assault” as a criminal law term, the civil action (or “tort”) for unwanted touching is called “battery” instead.  Often, this tort claim is filed alongside a tort claim for “assault,” which includes the conduct of putting someone in fear of imminent unwanted touching.

Whether the unwanted or harmful touching is sexual abuse or more general violence, these lawsuits have a short deadline to file for adults.  The theory is that you knew you were struck or abused, and you are an adult with the means to file a lawsuit, so the filing deadline is short.  This ignores the reality that many sexual abuse survivors face, including the doubt that they will be believed, the hesitation in coming forward about someone with power over you, and the simple difficulty of finding a lawyer for sexual abuse victims in Missouri that you can trust.

Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse of a Minor in Missouri

While the law might be strict and quite unfair for adult victims, the rule is better for minors abused while they were under 18.  However, this law is still lacking and still requires what would be considered “quick” action for many.

Under § 537.046, RSMo, survivors of sexual abuse who were under 18 have until they turn 21 before the timer even starts running on the statute of limitations.  From there, they have 10 years to get their claim filed.  This ultimately gives many victims until they turn 31 for their case to be considered timely.

This same rule – until age 31 – is applied to cases where minors were abused by being the victim of child pornography as well.  The rule under § 537.047 covers this rule, whereas the § 537.046 rule covers instances of physical abuse and rape.

These laws also create an additional tool victims can use to file their case even later: a discovery rule.  With statutes of limitations, a “discovery rule” is a rule that allows the statute of limitations to apply differently when the victim could not discover what happened to them and its cause.  Many victims of childhood sexual abuse block out what happened to them and only discover that their physical injuries and mental health conditions were caused by abuse years and years into adulthood.  As such, these laws give survivors 3 years from the date of discovery to file, even if that is later than their 31st birthday.

How Far Back Does the Statute of Limitations Go for Sexual Abuse of a Minor in Missouri?

Most laws dealing with extended limitations periods for sexual abuse victims are somewhat new.  More and more states are realizing the seriousness of this issue and extending their laws.  Missouri’s statutes were written in 2004 and 2007, and both statutes discussed above have different cutoff points for how they apply:

Physical Sexual Abuse

The statute for physical sexual abuse applies only to lawsuits filed after August 28, 2004, according to subsection 3 of that law.  However, it applies to conduct that happened before that date, even if the previous laws would have already made that claim time-barred under the old rule.

In practice, this means any abuse that took place after August 28, 2004 follows the current rule.  However, if the abuse occurred before August 28, 2004, you might still be able to file a claim for it as long as the plaintiff is still under 31 years old.

Child Pornography Abuse

Child sexual abuse involving using the victim for child pornography has a slightly different rule.  Under that statute’s third subsection, the deadline only applies to cases where the underlying abuse happened after August 28, 2007.  Earlier acts of sexual exploitation cannot be filed under this subsection.

Upcoming Changes to Missouri’s Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Claims

Missouri legislators have been trying since 2022 to try to extend the statute of limitations further.  Bills have been proposed to extend the filing deadline another 10 years, including a 2023 bill that passed the Missouri House of Representatives with a vote of 150 to 0Other bills proposed extending the deadline to age 55.  Even so, no bill extending the deadline has yet to make it through the state Senate or been signed into law.

Many states have passed laws extending their statutes of limitations and even creating look-back windows that open up an opportunity to sue for cases that would have been time-barred.  This is especially needed, given that many studies show victims of childhood sexual abuse do not come forward until they are in their 50s, and Missouri’s law only applies through age 31.  Even though the Missouri House seems willing to extend the deadline, the law has not yet been changed as of the writing of this article.

Call Our Lawyers for Victims of Sexual Abuse in Missouri

Call our attorneys for victims of sexual abuse in Missouri today at The Law Office of Andrew Shubin by dialing (814) 826-3586.


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