Monday, March 14, 2016

Can Victims of Child Sexual Abuse Sue?

It is common for victims of sexual abuse, particularly kids, to cover up the crimes that were committed against them. Sometimes they cover them up so deeply, the issues take decades to resurface. In many states, the law recognizes this and makes allowances for prosecution of of child sexual abuse and violence similar to those made for the most severe crimes, like murder.

That is true for Texas, where there is no criminal statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. There is, however, a civil statute of limitations that raises some questions about the likelihood of success of a lawsuit filed against the Diocese of Austin Texas by a man who says he was abused 40 years ago. Let’s take a look at his claims and statutes of limitation on civil child sexual abuse cases.

The Austin Diocese

A man going by the name John Doe filed a suit in Texas against the Austin Diocese, arguing that its priest, John Eggerling, repeatedly abused him over a period of five years during the 1970’s. Eggerling passed away in 2008. The plaintiff argues that the Dicoese is responsible for hiding evidence of the priest’s known psycho-sexual issues, according to local news station KXAN.

Although the reported details are meager, it seems that the civil statute of limitations on this case has not run. The reason, most likely, is that the victim discovered Eggerling’s known psycho-sexual issues after the priest’s death, and the claim is based on the failure of the church organization to protect children, not on the acts perpetrated against the victim. In other words, it seems as if the victim is suing the church organization for negligent failure to warn.

The defendant is being circumspect in its approach to the suit, saying only that it is investigating the allegations and that Eggerling worked for the State of Texas, not the Diocese. Given the sensitive nature of the accusations, the Austin Disocese cannot afford to dismiss the allegations too callously. John Doe claims that Eggerling took him across state lines numerous times over five years, and repeatedly abused him sexually throughout that period.

Can You Sue?

As this case out of Texas shows, there are many approaches to a civil suit. Sometimes new evidence arises that can form a basis for a long-dormant negligence claim, as appears to have happened here.

State statutes of limitation do vary and civil suits must generally be filed within a certain period after the claimed abuse. But most statutes only start counting that time after an abused child has reached the age of majority, meaning they generally have some years into their adulthood to sue civilly for child sexual abuse.

Are You a Victim?

If you or someone you know was a victim of child sexual abuse, speak to a local lawyer. Many attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case. There may be a basis for a claim, even after all seemingly applicable limitations have run, but you’ll need a resourceful attorney to help you. Get advice and guidance.

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