Statute of Limitations to File Sexual Abuse Lawsuits in Tennessee

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

If you were abused and are considering seeking justice through a civil lawsuit against the person or institution responsible, you should always speak with a lawyer and act quickly.  There is a statute of limitations that often requires victims to file quite quickly to seek justice for what happened to them.

For adults, the statute of limitations is only one year.  That means that if you were 18 or older when the abuse occurred, you will have an incredibly short deadline to get your case filed.  If you were a minor when the abuse occurred, the case must be filed before you turn 33, but there are some potential extensions for cases based on events occurring on or after July 1, 2019.

For help filing your sexual abuse case on time, call the Tennessee sexual abuse victim lawyers at Howe Law today at (844) 876-4357.

The Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse for Adults in Tennessee

Under Tennessee law, there is a statute of limitations that governs most personal injury cases, setting how long victims have to bring their claim in court.  For all cases dealing with personal injury – whether from intentional causes like assault or sexual abuse or from accidental causes like car crashes – the victim has 1 year to file under T.C.A. § 28-3-104.  This gives sexual assault victims a very small window from the date of the abuse to file a civil lawsuit.  You can often file against the abuser directly and potentially against any institution that shared responsibility for the abuse – such as a church, school, or camp the abuser worked for.

There are a few exceptions to this statute of limitations, but there is no guarantee that they will always be applicable.  First, within § 28-3-104(a)(2), there is an exception for cases that are also the basis for criminal charges.  With many civil cases for intentional actions, there could also be a parallel case in the criminal court system.  When this happens, you get 2 years to file your case instead, given that it is likely you will want to wait to see how the criminal case turns out before trying your civil case against the same defendant for the same conduct.

There is a special exception for anyone who lacks the mental capacity to appreciate what happened to them and bring a lawsuit.  Under T.C.A. § 28-1-106(c), there is an exception that allows adults with serious mental disabilities to file after the disability is removed.  This could apply if you were abused while incapacitated in a hospital or for those with mental health issues and disabilities.  However, if you have a guardian who can file on your behalf, they are beholden to the normal statute of limitations of 1 year.

Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse of a Minor in Tennessee

Child victims often cannot understand what happened to them and might not be able to appreciate that what happened to them was sexual assault or sexual abuse until they become an adult or go through years of therapy.  In many cases, the mind simply shuts down and forgets about traumatic events, making recalling the events harder for a child.  As such, the law allows for a longer filing deadline in cases of sexual abuse of a minor.

However, this law took effect in 2019 and only affects cases where the conduct in question took place on or after July 1, 2019.  Because of the complexity of these laws, you should always have our Tennessee sexual abuse lawyers review your case to determine the exact deadline for filing your case.

Cases Before July 1, 2019

If the abuse occurred before July 1, 2019, then you have to follow the old statute of limitations that was in place at that time.  That would mean using the normal 1-year statute of limitations.  However, there is also a tolling rule under § 28-1-106(a) like the one discussed above for mental disabilities, so minors would normally have until they turn 19 to be able to file.

The version of T.C.A. § 28-3-116 from 2018, which was in effect before July 1, 2019, also gave an additional extension for cases where the victim did not discover or “becom[e] aware” of the injury being caused by sexual abuse.  Instead of 1 year, victims had 3 years from the time of discovery.  Under the current version of § 28-3-116, this is still the law for cases where the abuse happened before July 1, 2019.

Cases After July 1, 2019

The same rule applies regarding discovery for cases where the abuse happened after July 1, 2019: victims have 3 years from the time they discover what happened to them to file.  However, subsection (b)(2)(A) of the statute also gives victims until 15 years after they turn 18 to file – which means they have until they turn 33.

This law also says that the statute of limitations is whichever is later.  So if your 33rd birthday passes and you still have not discovered the abuse that occurred before you were 18, then you would get 3 years from the discovery to file your case.  If you discover the abuse but do not come forward until after 3 years pass, you will have to file before turning 33.

This deadline should not matter much at the time of writing because even the oldest minors that this law could apply to will not turn 33 until the year 2034, giving them plenty of time to speak with a lawyer and bring forward their abuse claims.

Special Statutes of Limitations and Rules for Sexual Abuse Lawsuits Against Institutions in Tennessee

If a childhood sexual abuse case is brought within 1 year of the victim turning 18, they have no extra hurdles to jump to bring your case against an institution alongside the individual abuser.  If you file later than that, you need “admissible and credible evidence” to corroborate your claim against the individual perpetrator in order to sue an institution.  Essentially, you need strong evidence to show the abuse really happened to hold an institution or other third party liable.

Call Our Tennessee Sexual Abuse Lawyers Today

For help with your potential case, contact our Tennessee sexual abuse lawyers today at Howe Law by dialing (844) 876-4357.


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