From the desk of Kyle Riley: How long after being sexually abused can a victim bring a civil suit against the assailant?
Claims Pointer: Although there is a three-year statute of limitation for bringing sexual abuse claims, that period is tolled until after discovery of the link between the abuse and injury. This standard differs from the general discovery rule, which only requires discovery of injury, whereas with sexual abuse, the plaintiff must realize not only that he or she has been harmed, but that the harm was caused by sexual abuse. Read on to find out how the Washington Court of Appeals addressed this issue with a minor plaintiff that did not bring suit until she was 23 years old.
B.R. v. Horsley, No. 44874-2-II , 2015 WL 1035796, March 10, 2015.
When B.R. (name protected) was 13, she was abused by Suzanne Horsley between 2002 and 2004 at a church youth group. In the subsequent years, B.R. suffered from feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, anger, betrayal, guilt, and, worry. B.R. received treatment from 2005-2006. B.R. had never been employed and was not sexually active, due in part to the effects of her abuse. In 2008, B.R. married at age 19, but had difficulties with intimacy, sexual dysfunction, and other emotional and psychological issues that led to her divorce in 2011. B.R. faced problems at work beginning in 2009.
In 2011, B.R. began therapy with Mary Dietzen, Ph.D, who B.R. claimed helped her realize the serious effects that the abuse had had on her life. On January 3, 2012, B.R. sued Horsley and the church. Horsley moved for summary judgment, arguing that the statute of limitation had run. B.R. argued that her psychiatrist’s deposition established that she did not discover the link between her abuse and her injuries until the last year or two before the suit. The trial court granted the motion, concluding that the 3-year statute of limitation had passed.
After examining similar cases, the Court of Appeals concluded that B.R. arguably did not comprehend the full effect of childhood abuse until she had experienced adult difficulties in her marriage, work, religion, and sexual relations. The court then considered whether there were facts presented at summary judgment that raised issues sufficient to present to a jury. First, the court examined B.R.’s problems with intimacy and marriage. These injuries began at the earliest in 2008 when she was married and continued or became worse until 2011 when she and her husband divorced. Prior to that time, B.R. had never been sexually active and did not realize her dysfunction until the end of her marriage or even later.
The court reasoned that because the legislature intended to expand the statute of limitations for sexual abuse to accommodate victims that do not realize the full extent of their injuries far into adulthood, especially for “marital problems and sexual dysfunction,” B.R.’s suit could not be precluded as a matter of law. Horsley contended that B.R. had already experienced sexual and relationship dysfunction because in her deposition she stated that she had “problems with boys” as a teen. The court rejected Horsley’s argument because it was not the same injury as marital problems or lack of intimacy and sexual dysfunction experienced as an adult.
The court agreed with B.R. that a triable fact existed as to her troubles with work because there was some dispute as to when she began to be affected by those troubles. In B.R.’s deposition, she stated that she began have troubles at work as early as 2007, but did not know of the link between her abuse and work troubles until 2009. The court also held that the issue of B.R.’s ability to connect to religion was triable to a jury because Horsley did not dispute B.R.’s claims and nothing in the records presented evidence to the contrary.
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