TIME LIMIT EXPANDED TO BRING CHILD SEX ABUSE CASES

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This past December, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court approved a statute that expands the time limit to bring lawsuits for child sex abuse.

This case arose out of a lawsuit by a woman who had been sexually abused by her uncle for many years when she was a child during the 1970’s. In the late 1980’s, she came to understand that she had been sexually abused, and that the sexual abuse had caused her serious, permanent mental injuries. She sued the uncle for civil damages in 2012, but a lower court judge dismissed the case, because the statute of limitations, which was three years at that time, had expired back in the early 1990’s.

In 2014, the Mass. legislature changed the law, extending the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits for child sex abuse from three years to 35 years, in recognition of the fact that victims of child sexual abuse often do not realize that they had been abused until many years after the abuse has ended.

The question in this case was whether the change in the law was retroactive – did the change in the law “revive” the woman’s claim against her uncle, even though her case had already been dismissed by the lower court?

The Supreme Judicial Court said yes, the new law was retroactive, and the woman could now re-open the civil lawsuit against her uncle. It was constitutional for the Legislature to make this change in the law retroactive, because “there is a strong interest and a well-established community consensus in favor of protecting children from abuse.”

– Paul Johnson, Esq.