SEXUAL ABUSE VICTIM MAY HAVE MORE TIME TO SUE IF PSYCH DISABLED
Sexual abuse is a particularly vicious crime. A person who perpetrates sexual abuse is subject to criminal punishment. The victim also may have a right to sue the perpetrator in a civil court for money damages.
As in any case, there is a deadline to sue. Most personal injury claims carry a two-year deadline to sue. In some cases, the law will extend the deadline to sue. But such extension is the exception, not the rule.
However, there is a special law in New Jersey applicable to sexual abuse cases involving children. The name of the law is the Child Sexual Abuse Act. Under the Act, the deadline to sue can be extended because of the victim’s mental state. The deadline to sue can also be extended if the victim was under duress. “Duress” means that someone prevented the victim, by threats or force, from filing a lawsuit earlier.
A New Jersey trial judge recently dismissed a child sexual abuse claim. The victim’s lawyer filed the lawsuit after the two-year deadline to sue. The judge ruled that the victim missed the deadline. The alleged perpetrator was deceased. The victim sued his estate. The judge ruled that the victim could not be under duress from someone who was dead.
The victim appealed. The appeals court reversed the trial judge. The appeals judges agreed that the victim could not be under duress from a dead man. But that fact alone didn’t mean that the Child Sexual Abuse Act deadline extension didn’t apply. The victim had produced a psychologist report indicating that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
APPEALS COURT RULING
The appeals court ruled that the victim was entitled to a hearing before the trial judge. A hearing to determine whether a psychological condition prevented her from filing a lawsuit on time. At the hearing, the defense will be entitled to present its own psychological expert on the question.
In my opinion, the appeals court made the right call.