Arizona’s New Law – Statute of Limitations for Childhood Sexual Abuse
As traumatic as sexual abuse against a child may be, until recently, an additional heartbreak and injustice often resulted from the law itself.
In Arizona, prior to May 2019, the time limit was generally two years from the child’s 18th birthday to file a lawsuit against a sexual predator or organization that employed or enabled that sexual predator. This meant that, as the Me-Too movement gained steam, many who were victims as children were left without recourse as they grew older. While they may have been sexually abused as a minor, because they failed to file suit anytime from the ages of 18-20, their rights to civil justice were forever extinguished.
It is perfectly understandable why someone might not rush to the courthouse to file a lawsuit for childhood sexual abuse in those first two years of adulthood. But, until recently, unless those reasons included the complete inability to remember the abuse, or unless the victim was under continued threat from the perpetrator which prevented the victim from filing a lawsuit, it was very difficult — if not impossible — to achieve justice in a civil court of law. Such cases were often thrown out by the courts before they ever reached a fair settlement or trial for being untimely filed.
Yet, to the relief of victims and victim-advocates everywhere, the law in Arizona was changed earlier this year. Arizona’s statute of limitations for sexual abuse against a minor — that is, the time a victim has to file a lawsuit — has been extended from two to 12 years beyond the minor’s 18th birthday.
Additionally, even victims who are more than 30 years old may be able to properly file suit in Arizona, but only through December 31, 2020.
ARIZONA’S NEW LAW – MINOR HAS UNTIL 30TH BIRTHDAY TO FILE LAWSUIT
A.R.S. § 12-514 now allows a victim “twelve years after [he/she] reaches eighteen years of age” to file a lawsuit. This means that anyone who was sexually abused as a minor now has until their 30th birthday to file a lawsuit against the person(s) who directly engaged in the abuse AND also against the an entity that employed or enabled that abuser, to the extent that the entity could be found negligent for having done so.
For example, sexual abuse in religious organizations has been the subject of extensive news reporting in the last several decades. One awfully troubling fact concerns how some organizations have knowingly allowed abusers to continue to work within their ranks, even with children. Of course, if any organization knows — or should have known — that a person they employ is a danger to children (whether due to having actually abused children in the past, or engaging in other behavior that might reasonably place the employer on notice), then that organization should fire such person. Or, at the very least, that person should be forever prevented from working with children. If the organization fails to take these common sense preventative measures, then the organization may be found negligent, and this negligence can be determined a cause of the abuse. In this way, the employer can be held legally responsible for the harm to the child, in addition to the perpetrator him/herself.
Lawsuits against organizations for their negligence tend to be more likely to bring real justice to victims. This is because liability insurance policies are more likely to be in place and apply to an employer’s negligence, than an abuser’s intentional acts of sexual abuse.
It makes sense to hold enablers responsible for placing abusers in a position where they can hurt children. Without enablers, abusers often would not have access to their victims. Nor would they have the credibility/trust gained through their employment that frequently makes such abuse possible. The law permits employers that fail to conduct basic background checks on their employees who work with children, or who allow dangerous employees to remain in their midst, to be held accountable.
ARIZONA’S NEW LAW – RETROACTIVITY AND REVIVAL – IT MAY NOT BE TOO LATE FOR YOU
The bill signed and passed by Arizona’s governor, Doug Ducey, contains a provision that makes enables people older than 30 years to file a lawsuit for their childhood sexual abuse. However, the time window for such a lawsuit to be filed is only through December 31, 2020.
The Arizona legislature, apparently recognizing that there are many victims who are now more than 30 years old who may have cases against their abusers or enabling-organizations, has re-opened the courthouse door for the filing of such claims.
Thus, anybody who would have filed a lawsuit in those first 12 years after becoming an adult, but did not or could not because of the law preventing them from doing so, can now finally seek justice. But again, this opportunity is only available through December 31, 2020.
POSSIBLE EXCEPTIONS – GOVERNMENTAL/PUBLIC ENTITIES
For example, in most instances, if sexual abuse of an elementary school child occurred in a public school, this would mean that a Notice of Claim would need to be effectively served within 180 days of the victim’s 18th birthday.
(Note: we observe that Arizona’s new law, HB 2466, may even revive the opportunity to serve a Notice of Claim on an Arizona governmental or public entity or employee through December 31, 2020 for at least some claimants. To see if your claim falls under the protection of this revival provision, it is absolutely imperative that you not delay and that you contact an attorney specializing in Arizona sex abuse claims immediately).
Thus, while the new law in Arizona offers a new path toward justice for some victims, it seems there may be others who are not so fortunate. However, if you are wondering whether Arizona’s new law will revive your claim, or if you are otherwise affected, please contact a Phoenix personal injury attorney right away.
Let us tell your story
we care, and we can help. Contact us 480-991-7677 or fill out the form below
The personal injury attorneys in Phoenix, Arizona at Knapp & Roberts have the compassion and trial lawyer skills to tell your story to a jury. We will get to know you and your family so that we can help the jury understand what has happened to you and your family and how it has changed your lives. Obtain the compensation necessary for the injuries and losses you have suffered.