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What are The Deadlines to File a Sexual Assault Civil Case in California?

Posted by Stephanie Sherman | Mar 23, 2022 | 0 Comments

(SHERMAN LAW NEWS | March 23, 2022)

It may not be too late.  As a result of recent headlines involving sexual assault by doctors, coaches, directors, and institutions, California has taken action to allow a path forward for victims to get justice by extending deadlines through legislative action.

A civil case for sexual assault is different than a criminal case.  In a civil case, we are not seeking a conviction or jail time but compensation. The civil case must be filed by the deadline or it can be dismissed. 

The filing deadline is determined by the applicable statute of limitations (SOL). The SOL is the time period during which you must file your civil case.  If you don't file your case in time, your case is time-barred, meaning its too late and you cannot file it, ever.  

The SOL is dependent on several factors.  First, did the assault happen to a child or an adult? 

Sexual Assault of A Child

The SOL for sexual assault of a child is further dependent on when the assault took place.   

Before January 1, 2020, California residents who were survivors of childhood sexual assault had to file a civil lawsuit against their abuser before their 26th birthday. The problem is that many survivors do not get the courage until many years after the abuse to tell anyone. Many survivors experience shame and don't feel safe to share what happened.  Survivors may also suffer from trauma induced post traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) which can be severely debilitating and isolating.  PTSD changes the structure of the brain and can require many years of trauma therapy.  Many survivors are unable to take action until they are further along in their healing, which can take many years.  The average age that survivors disclose that they were sexually abused as a child is 52. Thus, any statute of limitations cutting off a survivor's rights at age 26 is not good enough, leaving the abusers free to go about their life. 

California Child Victims Act

Fortunately, the state of California recognizes the importance and impact of childhood sexual abuse. On October 14, 2019, California passed the Child Victims Act for survivors of childhood sexual assault. It took immediate effect on January 1, 2020.The Act allows a three year window NOW for survivors with expired claims to bring a civil lawsuit against their perpetrator, private organization, or the government.  This three year window to file an expired sexual assault claim expires January 1, 2023.  

The Act also revised the definition of “childhood sexual abuse” and instead refers to it as “childhood sexual assault”. The new definition has been expanded to include crimes such as incest, sodomy, and several other violations against minors that were not previously recognized as sexual abuse.

The Act also made significant changes to the statute of limitations.  The Act allows survivors to file a civil lawsuit for damages by either:

  1. the time the survivor reaches the age of 40, or,
  2. 5 years after the survivor discovers (or reasonably should have discovered) that their psychological injury was caused by their childhood sexual assault, whichever of the two occurs latest.

The Act allows survivors over the age of 40 to file a sexual assault claim if an individual or entity knew, had reason to know, or was otherwise put on notice that its employees, representatives, volunteers, or agents were engaged in misconduct that created a risk of childhood sexual assault. Additionally, individuals and organizations will be liable under the Act for failing to take reasonable steps or implementing safeguards to avoid acts of childhood sexual assault.

Finally, the Act provides that survivors may recover additional damages from a perpetrator or organization who covered up the sexual assault of a minor.

Sexual Assault of an Adult - Extended to 10 Years

Before 2018, the statute of limitations to file a civil case for sexual assault of an adult was 3 years. On September 29, 2018, the California State Assembly unanimously passed Assembly Bill 1619, which extends the statute of limitations from three years to 10 years. 

The Act also has a discovery rule of 3 years. The discovery rule allow the plaintiff 3 years from the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that an injury or illness resulted from the assault.  In other words, if the memory of the assault was suppressed until years later, and the plaintiff discovers that her psychological symptoms are related to a previous assault, she has 3 years from this discovery to file a civil case.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse in California, please contact California sexual assault attorney Stephanie ShermanSherman Law investigates and prosecutes sexual assault cases in California and throughout the country. 

Sherman Law respects your privacy.  Any inquiries are private and confidential.

There is no attorney fee, unless you are compensated.

About the Author

Stephanie Sherman

On June 1, 2022, I joined the nationwide award-winning law firm, Baum Hedlund.  I am grateful to join this elite group of trailblazers that is so deeply committed to taking on tough cases and fighting for the underdog. You can still reach me here, via my bio page or at 800-827-0087. Stephani...

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