How Long Do You Have to Sue for Child Sexual Abuse?

clock handThe deadline for bringing a lawsuit for child sexual abuse depends on the statutes of limitation (SOLs) in your state. States have different SOLs for civil or criminal cases for sex abuse.

Oregon and many other states recognize that child sex abuse victims often take years before they are able to come forward to make a claim and so have enacted extended SOLs to allow civil or criminal cases many years after the abuse occurred.

These extended SOLs reflect the understanding of how child abuse – particularly child sexual abuse – affects people. Most victims of child abuse remember that they were abused, but because of the way children react to and process abuse (by blaming themselves, dissociation, and other defense mechanisms), many of them don’t connect that abuse with problems they have as adults. It takes many years for them to realize that problems they have as adults were caused by the abuse, and to come forward and seek justice for their abuse. Now that these reactions and behaviors are better understood, states changed their laws to reflect the reality of how child abuse affects people long term.

So Oregon and other states have reformed their statutes of limitations to allow people to bring claims as adults, even decades after they were abused as children. Some states extended the SOLs for sex abuse cases; some states passed “window” laws eliminating SOLs for 1 or 2 years; some states have eliminated the criminal SOLs entirely. Not all states have reformed their SOLs.

In Oregon, victims of child abuse can file a civil lawsuit any time before they turn 40, or even after they are 40, as long as they file the lawsuit within 5 years of when they first make the connection between their childhood abuse and their adult “injuries.” ORS 12.117. Not everyone who is sexually abused as a child suffers long-term injuries. But some common long-term effects of child sexual abuse are depression, substance abuse, anger management problems, anxiety, relationship issues, sexual dysfunction, and trust issues.

Oregon allows civil claims under this extended SOL against the perpetrator or anyone – including any organization – that knowingly allowed, permitted, or encouraged the abuse. Oregon’s law applies to sexual, physical, and mental abuse of a child.

Neighboring states have similar laws extending the statutes of limitations, although they apply only to claims for child sexual abuse, not physical or mental abuse. Idaho has the same five-year discovery rule as Oregon. IC § 6-1704 (1). Washington, California, and Montana allow civil claims for child sexual abuse to be filed within three years of making the connection between the abuse and adult injuries. RCW 4.16.340; CCCP § 340.1 (a); MCA 27-2-216.

The criminal statute of limitation in Oregon changed this year. The new Oregon law eliminates any deadline for bringing criminal charges for first-degree sex crimes, including rape, if the prosecuting attorney obtains additional corroborating evidence of crime. According to the legislative history, this corroborative evidence could be DNA evidence, but does not have to be:

This corroborating evidence can be through non-DNA physical evidence, such as a video tape or recording; a confession by the defendant to that particular crime; statements made by the victim that are made close in time to the alleged crime; or when multiple victims come forward alleging crimes similar enough to be on the same charging instrument.

Lesser sex crimes, or first-degree sex crimes when there is no corroborative evidence, must be charged in Oregon before the victim turns 30, or within 12 years after the offense is reported to a law enforcement agency or the Department of Human Services, whichever occurs first. ORS 131.125.

Other states have different laws for civil and criminal claims. Different rules and limitations apply. For example, sometimes these new laws apply to old claims, but sometimes they only apply to child abuse that happens after the new law goes into effect. Some laws apply only to claims against the perpetrators, but some allow claims against organizations that allowed the abuse to happen, like the church that employed the perpetrator, or the Boy Scouts where the perpetrator was acting as a volunteer.

A good place to start is this SOL Reform website. But it is always best to ask a lawyer who practices in the state where the abuse occurred what the law in that state is. Here at Dumas Law Group, we are licensed in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and California. We have been admitted in other states to represent clients for their cases, like we are doing now in Montana and have done in many other states around the country. If you have a question about the SOL in a particular state, call us.

Dumas Law Group has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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