A statute of limitations (SOL) restricts the amount of time a victim has to file either a civil or criminal claim. If you file a lawsuit after the SOL has expired, your case typically will be dismissed. Pennsylvania has both criminal and civil sexual abuse statutes of limitations.
Typically, the statute of limitations that will apply is the one that was in place at the time of the offense. This means that even though a statute of limitations may have been lengthened since the incident, if time has run out, it cannot be restarted.
However, a controversial bill (HB 1947) is being considered, which would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases and significantly extend the civil SOL. Some versions of HB 1947 would revive time-barred civil claims—allowing adult victims to sue both perpetrators and the institutions that failed to prevent the child abuse. However, this bill has not yet been enacted into law. If you have questions about HB 1947, contact a personal injury lawyer or your state representative.
Civil Lawsuits for Sexual Abuse
A civil lawsuit may be filed against the abuser or an organization (such as a church, school, or workplace) that allowed the abuse to occur. A victim of sexual abuse can demand compensation for his or her economic and non-economic damages, including pain and suffering.
In Pennsylvania, the filing of a civil claim dealing with sexual abuse must be commenced at any time within:
- Two years of the abuse, if the victim is an adult, or
- 12 years from the victim’s 18th birthday (if the victim was a minor at the time of the sexual abuse).
Again, proposed legislation would dramatically change these statutes of limitations and could even re-open time-barred child abuse claims.
If sexual abuse occurs at your workplace, you may also have a sexual harassment lawsuit under federal law. You must file a complaint (or charge) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of the harassment. The EEOC will investigate your claim and determine whether it will pursue a lawsuit on your behalf.
If the EEOC decides not to litigate your claim, it will issue a Right to Sue letter. You must file a lawsuit within 90 days of the EEOC’s Right to Sue letter. If you need help with an employment-related claim, consider contacting a sexual harassment lawyer.
Criminal Cases for Sexual Abuse
In order to prosecute a sexual abuser, you must file a report with law enforcement. Criminal sexual abuse cases are filed by the State of Pennsylvania on behalf of a victim. A suspect may face jail time, sex offender registration, and other penalties, if guilty.
In Pennsylvania criminal cases, a prosecutor may file charges of child sexual abuse anytime before the victim’s 50th birthday. All other sexual assault and abuse charges involve a 12-year statute of limitations.
Additionally, there is a DNA evidence exception to the SOL. If a perpetrator is identified by DNA evidence after the statute of limitations has expired, a prosecutor may still file criminal charges within a year of a suspect’s identification.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
A personal injury lawyer can educate you about your legal rights, help compile evidence, and provide emotional support during litigation. A Pennsylvania lawyer can also provide a personalized and detailed analysis of the statute of limitations in your case. It may also be in your best interest to contact law enforcement about the sexual abuse.
If you have been charged with a sexual offense, a criminal lawyer can help you understand your rights. Time is of the essence, so talk to an attorney as soon as possible.