Statute of Limitations

Florida has a four-year statute of limitations on most causes of action for personal injury. However, when it comes to sexual abuse, there are special guidelines, intended to account for special circumstances that exist when:

  • One suffers sexual abuse as a child;
  • One suffers repressed memory (sometimes referred to as “traumatic amnesia”), leading to a delayed realization/ understanding of the abuse (most citing the precedent set by the 2000 Florida Supreme Court decision in Hearndon v. Graham);
  • There was institutional fraudulent concealment by defense.

At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale sexual assault attorneys work to help sexual assault victims recover damages from individual perpetrators, as well as the entities that protected the abusers or had a duty to protect victims and failed. These may include churches, schools, sports organizations and others.

This does not necessarily mean you have an unlimited time in which to file a claim. The best course of action is to discuss your legal options with a Florida attorney experienced in pursuing civil sexual assault cases.

Florida Law

It’s important to understand that Florida allows for two basic forms of action in sexual assault cases:

  • Criminal
  • Civil

There are advantages and limitations for both.

In regards to criminal prosecution of sexual battery, F.S. 775.15 allows that in cases of second-degree felony sexual battery (where the perpetrator is 18 or older and the victim is at least 16 years or older and does not report the crime within 72 hours), the law will allow up to eight years for prosecutors to file charges. (Prior to the passage of the 43 Days Initiative Act, the previous statute of limitations was 3 or 4 years, depending on the circumstances.) Where the accused is at least 18 and the victim at least 16 and DOES report the offense within 72 hours, there is no time limit for prosecution. This applies to any offense except one time-barred on or before July 1, 2015. That means the law is applicable retroactively, so long as the statute of limitations hasn’t run on offenses prior to that date.

In cases involving sexual battery, lewd or lascivious acts or other similar felony offenses, in addition to the aforementioned limitations, an offender can be prosecuted at any time after the date on which his or her identity is established (or should have been established through due diligence) with DNA testing, except with certain offenses which may need to be prosecuted within one year.

There is no limitation for criminal prosecution when the victims are younger than 16.

As for civil litigation (filed by the victim, as opposed to state prosecutors), the rules are a bit different.

F.S. 95.11(7) and (9) provide a four-year statute of limitations on most all potential causes of action in an institutional sex abuse case. These would include causes of action for:

  • Negligence. Defendant owed plaintiff a duty of care, breached that duty and caused injury to plaintiff. (These would include inadequate security, inadequate supervision, negligent hiring, etc.)
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress.
  • Respondeat superior. This is Latin for “let the master answer,” and it’s a form of vicarious liability which holds an employer can be liable for the tortious (wrongful) actions of employees acting in the course and scope of employment.

However, for intentional torts that are based on abuse for sexual offenses (i.e., sexual battery, incest, etc.), action can be commenced at any time within seven years after turning 18 or within four years after the injured person leaves the dependency of the abuser or within four years of discovering the injury and/ or causal relationship between injury and abuse (whichever occurs later).

When the cause of action involves a sexual battery offense on a victim under the age of 16, the cause of action can be commenced at any time – meaning there is no statute of limitations on such cases. The only exception is on cases that would have been time-barred on or before July 1, 2010.

Prior to the 2010 law change, victims of childhood sexual abuse rarely had an opportunity to pursue civil legal action once they turned 22. Now, so long as the abuse occurred before they turned 16, there is no time limit barring civil legal action.

This does not mean that older cases will be easier to pursue. There are many obstacles one faces in filing such a claim, including fading memory or availability of witnesses and difficulty obtaining physical evidence and piecing together circumstantial evidence. These cases absolutely can be worth pursuing. Many times, it’s the only available avenue the victim has for justice and accountability. It’s important, though, to carefully weigh the viability of your claim.

Contact The Ansara Law Firm for more information about pursuing a civil claim for damages after nursing home sexual assault or abuse. Call us at (954) 761-3641 for a free case review.

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