What Is “Discovery” in Childhood Sexual Abuse?

What Is “Discovery” in Childhood Sexual Abuse?

Victims of childhood sexual abuse often suffer the effects of that abuse for years afterward. Each state has its own laws that set time limits on how long after abuse occurs adult victims of childhood sexual abuse can file a lawsuit against their abusers. These time limits, called statutes of limitations, generally require lawsuits to be filed within a certain number of years after a victim’s 18th birthday or within a set period of time after discovery of childhood sexual abuse.

In civil law, “discovery” means learning that a victim has suffered an injury. In cases where the effects of childhood sexual abuse wasn’t known until years later, the courts will usually allow an adult victim to claim “delayed discovery” and will apply the statutes of limitations from the date the discovery occurred rather than the date when the abuse took place.

Delayed discovery of childhood sexual abuse can be due to a number of factors:

  • Deceit: the victim wasn’t aware they were being abused, as when a health care provider abuses a patient under the guise of a physical exam.

  • Physical or mental disability: the victim was physically or mentally unable to report the abuse at the time.

  • Emotional distress caused by the abuse: the victim suffers emotional trauma causing memory of the abuse to be suppressed or by abnormal response such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In addition to allowing delayed discovery, several states have recently changed their laws regarding the statutes of limitations in childhood sexual abuse lawsuits:

  • California

In 2019, California changed its statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse lawsuits. California now allows a sexual abuse victim to file a lawsuit at any time prior to the victim’s 40th birthday or within 5 years of discovery of abuse.

A special provision of California’s new statutes of limitations law completely removes the statutes for a 3-year period beginning on January 1, 2020 and expiring on December 31, 2022. Under that provision, a victim of childhood sexual abuse will be allowed to file a lawsuit regardless of when the abuse occurred.

  • Illinois

Illinois eliminated its statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse lawsuits in 2017, but retained part of its original law. Illinois now has no statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse that occurred after January 1, 2017. However, if the abuse occurred prior to that date, childhood sexual abuse victims must file a lawsuit within 20 years of the victim’s 18th birthday or within 5 years of discovery.

  • New Jersey

Under a new law that took effect on December 1st of 2019, a victim of childhood sexual abuse is allowed to file a lawsuit against their abuser at any time prior to the victim’s 55th birthday or within 7 years of discovery of abuse. The new law also eliminated immunity from lawsuits that certain public, non-profit, organizations had enjoyed under the state’s Tort Claims Act.

  • New York

Under New York’s Child Victims Act, a victim of childhood sexual abuse can now file a civil lawsuit against their abuser at any time prior to the victim’s 55th birthday. A special provision of the Child Victims Act, which will expire on August 13th of 2020, allows victims to file a lawsuit regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.

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Despite changing attitudes regarding child sexual abuse, adult victims of sexual abuse as children can still face a number of obstacles in holding their abusers accountable for the harm they have caused. Given the complicated legal issues that could arise when an adult files a lawsuit over their sexual abuse as a child, anyone considering such a lawsuit should speak with a lawyer who has years of experience in handling adult victims of childhood sexual abuse lawsuits.

At The Doan Law Firm, our childhood sexual abuse lawyer offers you a free, no obligation, review of your case and a discussion of the legal options that may be available to you when you decide the time has come to hold your abuser accountable for the harm they have caused.

When you contact our firm to discuss your case, there is never a charge of any kind for your case review or for you to speak personally with our childhood sexual abuse lawyer. Should you decide to file a lawsuit against your abuser, and that you would like for us to represent you in court, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your lawsuit for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement we are prepared to win for you.

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