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Aug 242014

The Statute of Limitations

Success of a priest or church sex abuse lawsuit depends on many variables, such as the complexity of the legal issues, the state/county where the case is filed, etc. In addition, the facts of a particular case will ultimately determine whether the lawsuit will be successful or not.

Two of the most common issues which will determine success of a priest or church sex abuse lawsuit are the statute of limitations and evidence of the abuse. Below is a discussion of the statute of limitations. Stay tuned for an article on how evidence of the abuse plays a role in the success of a case.

Statute of Limitations – Victim was a Minor

Statute of limitations issues are often very complex and depend on the given state’s laws and timeline of events. States like Pennsylvania and New Jersey have different statutes of limitations which apply in child sex abuse cases.

Pennsylvania law imposes a hard and fast rule. The statute of limitations for civil child sex abuse cases is 12 years after the victim turns 18 (i.e., the victim’s 30th birthday). This only applies to cases where the victim turned 18 after 2002. For victims who suffered child sexual abuse and turned 18 before 2002, the prior statute of limitations will apply. Under the prior version of the law, victims had 5 years after their 18th birthday (23rd birthday) within which to file a lawsuit. This means that for most victims of child sexual abuse, the statute of limitations will have expired. However, there are some limited exceptions which may apply (i.e., fraudulent concealment).

Unlike Pennsylvania, New Jersey’s statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases does not impose a strict deadline. Rather, the clock starts ticking when the victim reasonably discovers that an injury is causally related to the sexual abuse. Basically, a victim has 2 years from the time they discover the connection between an injury and the abuse.

Related: PA’s Rape Shield Law – A Sex Abuse & Assault Victim’s Past Sexual History

Statute of Limitations – Victim was an Adult

In cases in which the victim was an adult when the abuse or assault occurred, the statute of limitations in both PA and NJ will expire 2 years after the incident occurred. The 2 year period is standard in most injury cases. For example, a woman or man who is sexually assaulted by a church employee has 2 years from the date of the incident to file a civil lawsuit. There are some limited exceptions to the 2 year rule, such as fraudulent concealment or the victim’s own mental incapacity.

Special Laws Extending the Statute of Limitations in Sex Abuse Cases

Many states have passed special laws which have opened windows for victims whose cases were previously time-barred by the statute of limitations. Delaware passed such a law in 2007. Pennsylvania’s legislature has been considering a similar law. Click here for more information about states which have passed these special laws.

Sex Abuse Lawyer, Brian Kent

Mr. Kent is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor who now helps victims obtain justice in the civil courts. Please call Mr. Kent for a free case review. 800.220.7600

DISCLAIMER: This website does not create any attorney-client relationship or provide legal advice. It is crucial to speak to a qualified lawyer prior to making any decision about your case. Read full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.


 Posted by on August 24, 2014 Priest/Pastor Sex Abuse