Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Lawsuits in Montana

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

When suing for sexual abuse, plaintiffs (victims) need to be aware of how the statute of limitations might affect their case.  States set filing deadlines for criminal and civil cases, often limiting the amount of time that sexual abuse survivors have to file their claims.  These rules are often different than the criminal statute of limitations, making things even more confusing.

Victims of sexual abuse in Montana typically have to file claims within 2 years, but that only applies to victims abused when they were adults.  If you were a minor when you were abused, the current law gives you until you turn 27 years old.  Alternatively, adults who were abused as children can also file their case later – no matter how old they are – if they only discovered their sexual abuse later in life.  In that case, victims have 3 years after their discovery.

For help with your case, reach out quickly to The Law Office of Andrew Shubin at (814) 826-3586 for a free case evaluation with our lawyers for victims of sexual abuse in Montana.

Montana’s Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations

States have a statute of limitations in place for most crimes and for civil “torts” (the civil equivalent of a crime) to prevent cases from being filed too long after the injury takes place.  However, when it comes to sexual abuse, victims are often unable or unwilling to come forward right away, calling into question the fairness of these statutes.  Nonetheless, under current Montana law, the following laws are in effect:

Filing Deadline for Adult Victims

If you were sexually abused or assaulted as an adult, the deadline to file your claim is typically 3 years from the date of injury under § 27-2-204, MCA.  The controlling language in this statute is the limitation on actions for “assault” and “battery.”

Even though we might call what happened to you sexual abuse or sexual assault, the terms “assault” and “battery” – generally – have broad definitions.  This makes them capable of covering claims for physical injury (battery) and putting another person in apprehension of immediate injury (assault) as well as other unwanted or offensive touching.  This would cover acts that might be called molestation, groping, sexual assault, rape, or sexual abuse, all under these same broad terms.

Filing Deadline for Child Victims

Most child victims of sexual abuse come forward about what happened to them much later in life.  In extending deadlines for childhood sexual abuse claims, the Montana legislature even acknowledged in their bill that the average reporting age for childhood sexual abuse is actually 52 years old.  As such, there are special laws giving adults who were abused back when they were children the right to file claims now for actions that happened perhaps decades ago.

Under § 27-2-216, MCA, the deadline to file is typically your 27th birthday.  This is the same deadline whether you are filing your claim against the individual who abused you or some entity that was responsible for failing to prevent the sexual abuse – like a school, a church, or some other institution.

Discovery Rule for Sexual Abuse Claims in Montana

As mentioned, the current rule in Montana only gives victims until age 27, but the average age for reporting childhood sexual abuse is 52.  Subsection (1)(b) of the statute of limitations is meant to address this by creating a discovery rule.

A “discovery rule” allows the filing deadline for a case to be extended because the victim did not know about the injury and its cause.  Instead, this law gives victims 3 years to file from the date they discovered their sexual abuse.

Victims of sexual abuse sometimes only discover these decades-old traumas after talking to their parents or going through years of therapy.  In many cases, the human mind works to protect itself, actually suppressing such memories so that they only come back to you when you are in a better mental/emotional state and have the support structure to work through them.  If this happened to you, you might be able to file your claim even if you are well past age 27.

This rule and an equivalent rule under subsection (3)(b) cover both lawsuits against individual abusers and lawsuits against institutions.

Look-Back Window in Montana for Sexual Abuse Claims

Many states acknowledged when extending their statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases that there are many cases that would have been blocked under the old rules, and it would be unfair for those plaintiffs not to get a chance to file their claims.  Montana addressed this by instituting a 1-year revival or “look-back” window for claims that were otherwise already time-barred.

This rule allows any claim filed within 1 year after May 7, 2019 to be accepted if the defendant had admitted what they did or been convicted of a crime.  In these cases, the victim could point to something like a recorded statement or a signed letter admitting to the abuse.  If there was a conviction on record for a crime related to the abuse, that would also qualify to allow the civil claim to be revived.

In any case, that rule expired in May 2020, and cases no longer have a look-back window unless the legislature adds a new one.  Because of this, it is incredibly important to talk to a lawyer quickly after discovering the abuse you faced and getting help before you turn 27, if possible.

Criminal vs. Civil Statutes of Limitations for Sexual Abuse in Montana

Note that these rules discussed above apply to civil cases; the rules are different for criminal cases.  In a civil case, a private individual sues the person who abused them to get monetary damages for their medical and therapy expenses, as well as pain and suffering.  The focus of these cases is to make the victim “whole,” as much as money possibly can.  Criminal cases, instead, focus on punishment and rehabilitation of offenders in charges brought by the government.

In Montana, the criminal statute of limitations says there is no time limit for bringing criminal charges against a defendant for sexual assault and other sex crimes committed against a minor.  However, this does not extend the civil statute of limitations.

Call Our Attorneys for Sexual Abuse Victims in Montana Today

If you were sexually abused as an adult or as a child, call (814) 826-3586 for a free case review with the lawyers for sexual abuse victims in Montana at The Law Office of Andrew Shubin.


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