A statute of limitations is a term that is used to describe a state statute that specifies the amount of time a plaintiff, or individual filing a lawsuit, has to file a civil lawsuit. It also specifies the amount of time a prosecutor has to file a criminal complaint against a defendant, or an individual who is accused of a crime.
A statute of limitations serves to place a time limit on a plaintiff by providing a deadline for filing their lawsuit. If a certain amount of time has passed, the plaintiff or criminal prosecutor is barred from bringing their claim or case against a defendant.
The statute of limitations for claims will vary depending on the jurisdiction. It will also vary depending on the type of claim the plaintiff or prosecutor is filing.
Why does a State have a Statute of Limitations?
States have statutes of limitations for several reasons. One of the main reasons is to protect defendants from untimely litigation. A statute of limitations allows a plaintiff to pursue a valid claim against a defendant, but only when the plaintiff exercises due diligence in timely filing their claim.
It is important to note that what is considered a timely filing of a plaintiff’s claim will depend on the state in which the claim is being filed as well as the type of claim being filed, as noted above. For example, in Texas, a common statute of limitations for a plaintiff to file a civil lawsuit is two years from the date of the incident.
There are 3 main reasons for the enactment of a statute of limitations, which are:
- A statute of limitations forces a plaintiff with a valid cause of action to bring the claim in a timely manner;
- Bringing an untimely claim may result in the loss of evidence that would be necessary for a defendant to defend themselves against the claim; and
- The litigation of a claim that has been long dormant may result in more cruelty than justice.
When does the Statute of Limitations Begin Running?
The United States Supreme Court has held many times that the standard rule regarding a statute of limitations is that it begins to run when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action. The statute of limitations usually begins to run when the event, such as the crime or injury, occurs or when the plaintiff discovers the injury, such as in fraud cases.
If a plaintiff files a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has expired, then their claim will most likely be thrown out of court upon a motion from the defendant. However, in some cases, the time period may have been paused for a period of time which is known as tolling the limitations.
For example, in a criminal case where the defendant commits a crime and flees and, as a result, they are a fugitive of the state, then the state, or prosecution, will suspend the statute of limitations for the period of time that the fugitive was on the run. This means that the prosecutor can bring the criminal charges once the fugitive is caught, not counting their time spent on the run.
In addition, if the plaintiff is a minor, many states permit tolling of the state until the plaintiff reaches the age of majority. In most states, the age of majority is 18 but it may vary. It may also be possible in cases of private civil matters for the parties to agree to shorten or lengthen the statute of limitations.
What Are the Texas Statutes of Limitations for Sexual Abuse?
As noted above, the statute of limitations (SOL) sets the amount of time the prosecutor or victim has to file a lawsuit. In most cases, if the lawsuit is filed after the statute of limitations expires, the case will be dismissed. In Texas, there are different sexual abuse statutes of limitations in civil cases and criminal cases.
It is important to note that the statute of limitations that applies is usually the one that was in place at the time of the incident. In other words, even if the SOL was lengthened since the incident, it will not renew an already time-barred claim.
What are Civil Lawsuits for Sexual Abuse in Texas?
There are some types of incidents that may be prosecuted under criminal laws as well as used as the basis for civil claims. In Texas, sexual abuse is one of those crimes.
In a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse, the victim will demand monetary compensation and damages from the abuser to compensate them for their injuries. They may be entitled to economic and non-economic damages, which may include compensation for their pain and suffering.
In 2015, a new Texas law dramatically altered the statute of limitations in certain sexual abuse related civil cases. Pursuant to this law, the individual must file their civil claim within 5 years from the event for cases of adult sexual assault or within 15 years from the victim’s 18th birthday in cases of child sexual assault.
If the identity of the perpetrator or defendant is unknown, the victim may file a John Doe or Jane Doe lawsuit. Once the identity of the suspect becomes known, the victim must amend their complaint to include the perpetrator’s name within 30 days.
If the sexual abuse occurred at the individual’s workplace, they may also have a sexual harassment lawsuit under federal laws. The individual must file a complaint or charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of the abuse or harassment. The EEOC will investigate the claim and determine whether it will pursue a lawsuit on the victim’s behalf.
If the EEOC determines they will not litigate the claim, they will issue the victim a Right to Sue letter. The individual must file a federal lawsuit within 90 days of the Right to Sue letter from the EEOC. An employment lawyer can guide the individual through the EEOC complaint process as well as any subsequent related litigation.
What are Criminal Cases for Sexual Abuse in Texas?
In Texas, criminal cases are filed by the state on behalf of a victim. In order to file criminal charges, a victim must notify the authorities of the sexual abuse. Law enforcement will investigate the claims and a prosecutor may file charges against the perpetrator. If the defendant is found guilty of sexual criminal conduct, they may face significant jail time and be required to register as a sex offender.
In criminal cases, Texas does not have a statute of limitations for:
- Rape or aggravated rape;
- Rape where DNA evidence is collected, but a suspect cannot immediately be identified;
- Rape in which the perpetrator is a suspected serial rapist; and
- Sexual assault or indecency with a child.
Additionally, there is no Texas statute of limitations on statutory rape. Statutory rape is the sexual assault of a child under the age of 17. Consent is not a defense to this charge unless the child was at least 14 years of age and the defendant was not more than three years older.
For these crimes, charges may be filed at any time. However, the prosecution of sexual assault and other offenses, including trafficking, there is a 10 year civil statute of limitations.
Do I Need a Texas Lawyer for Help with Texas Sexual Abuse Statutes of Limitations?
Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced criminal lawyer for any Texas sexual abuse state of limitations issues you may have. A sexual assault and the related abuse claims are extremely emotionally difficult. These types of claims may also involve a detailed legal analysis as well as strict procedural rules.
A lawyer can review your case, advise you of your rights, and guide you through the process of prosecution or a civil lawsuit. You may also file criminal charges with the local law enforcement agency.
If you are facing sexual abuse charges and prosecution in Texas, a Texas criminal lawyer can advise you of your rights as well as represent you during any court proceedings. Time is of the essence in these cases, so it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible.