Statute of Limitations in Sexual Abuse Cases

The statute of limitations is the time period by which a person must bring a lawsuit. The statute of limitations is a matter of state law and varies from state to state. Because victims of childhood sexual abuse rarely come forward immediately due to factors such as shame, fear and intimidation, we are often asked to assist clients with interpretation of the relevant statute of limitations.

In Texas, the statute of limitations provides that causes of action based upon sexual abuse must be brought within five years of the abuse or five years after the abuse victim’s eighteenth birthday. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 16.0045 provides a 5-year statute of limitations for violation of (1) Section 22.011, Penal Code (sexual assault); or (2) Section 22.021, Penal Code (aggravated sexual assault) or Section 21.02, Penal Code (continuous sexual abuse of young child or children).

Texas also recognizes equitable theories which may toll or stop the statute of limitations, including the discovery rule, unsound mind, equitable estoppel and duress. Whether one of these tolling provisions applies is a fact intensive inquiry.

New Mexico’s statute of limitation for childhood sexual abuse, N.M. Stat. Ann. 37-1-30,
provides:

37-1-30. Action for damages due to childhood sexual abuse; limitation on actions.

A. An action for damages based on personal injury caused by childhood sexual abuse shall be commenced by a person before the latest of the following dates:

(1) the first instant of the person’s twenty-fourth birthday; or

(2) three years from the date of the time that a person knew or had reason to know of the childhood sexual abuse and that the childhood sexual abuse resulted in an injury to the person, as established by competent medical or psychological testimony.

According to New Mexico precedent interpreting this statute, Kevin J. v. Sager; 128 N.M. 794, 999 P.2d 1026 (N.M. 1999), a person has three years from the time he or she connects the abuse to his or her injuries to file a lawsuit. Whether a person has made this connection must be established by expert psychological or medical testimony.

We are leaders in Texas and New Mexico in shaping the statute of limitations laws to favor victims of childhood sexual abuse. If you would like to read more, please open the link below which is a copy of an appellate brief we recently filed in the Texas 8th Court of Appeals with the assistance of the appellate attorneys at Durham and Pittard, LLP.