Can I Still File a Claim? The Statute of Limitations On Sexual Abuse and Assault Cases

Lee FloydOctober 26, 2022

There’s a lot of confusion regarding a survivor’s legal rights following sexual abuse or sexual assault. A common misconception is that victims can only pursue criminal proceedings to have the attacker arrested and charged. But survivors can also pursue civil proceedings as well. This leads to the second area of confusion for many survivors: How long do I have to file a claim? 

The answer isn’t always cut and dry. In the article below, we discuss the statute of limitations for sexual abuse and sexual assault cases in Virginia and the U.S., as well as other factors that impact the amount of time a survivor has to file a claim. 

Jump Ahead

Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault Are Different

First, it’s important to know the key differences between sexual abuse and sexual assault, as the status of limitations for each type of case can vary depending on the circumstances.  

  • Sexual abuse involves crimes committed against minors.
  • Sexual assault involves crimes committed against adults.

These two terms are often used interchangeably but are treated very differently by courts.

Sexual Abuse

Since minors can’t consent to sexual activity, any contact with a minor is illegal. And in the civil realm, minor abuse survivors (through their parents or guardians) can sue their abuser for civil damages. 

Under Virginia law, sexual abuse can include any of the following actions: 

  • Exposing one’s genitals to a minor
  • Fondling a minor’s intimate parts
  • Forcing a minor to fondle their own intimate parts
  • Engaging in any penetrative sexual acts with a minor
  • Taking sexually explicit images or videos of children
  • Forcing a minor to watch the abuser masturbate

If you suspect child abuse or know a minor has been abused in any of these ways, it’s not too late to seek help. The statute of limitations may be longer than you think.

Sexual Assault

Virginia law defines sexual assault as including only sex crimes against adults. Sexual assault can include the following actions:

  • Rape
  • Sodomy
  • Object sexual penetration
  • Sexual abuse
  • Sexual battery
  • Sexual touching of intimate parts or material covering such intimate parts
  • Forced sexual touching 
  • Any other act with the intent to sexually molest, arouse, or gratify any person

Just like sexual abuse survivors, sexual assault survivors can bring a legal claim against their abuser to recover financial damages. 

What Does Statute of Limitations Mean?

The term “statute of limitations” (SOL) refers to the amount of time you have to file a claim against your attacker. 

While most personal injury cases have an SOL of two years from the incident, calculating the limitations period for sexual abuse or assault can be trickier.

Virginia Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations: 20 Years From Accrual

Under Virginia statute § 8.01-243, the statute of limitations on sexual abuse of a minor doesn’t expire until 20 years after the cause of action accrues

A cause of action may “accrue” when:

  • A minor turns 18 (see Virginia statute § 8.01-249(6)) 
  • A minor first communicates the abuse to a therapist

Determining whether the SOL has expired in a child sex abuse case is very fact-specific.  

Different factors play a role in this legal determination, including:

  • When the sexual abuse occurred
  • The age of the survivor at the time of the abuse, and 
  • Whether the survivor has received medical treatment related to the sexual abuse 

We strongly encourage all survivors of child sexual abuse to consult with an attorney, at Breit Biniazan or elsewhere, as soon as possible to better understand their rights and whether they have a viable legal cause of action.

Sexual Abuse Statutes of Limitations in the U.S.

Each state has its own statute of limitations for sexual abuse of a minor. These time limits vary widely, from 1 year in Tennessee to 35 years in Massachusetts.

There are always exceptions to the sexual abuse statute of limitations, so you shouldn’t let this prevent you or a loved one from seeking help.

In many states, the statute of limitations for abuse of a minor may be tolled (or paused) until they turn 18. Others, like Georgia, pause the statute of limitations for sexual crimes for victims aged 65 and older until the abuse has been reported to an authority. Contact an attorney in your state to learn more about your options.

Within 1-2 years from the date of the incident

  • Delaware (2 years)
  • Hawaii (2 years)*
  • Indiana (2 years)
  • New Jersey (2 years)
  • New York (1 year for intentional torts)*
  • Oklahoma (2 years from act, discovery, or age 18)**
  • Tennessee (1 year general SOL)*
  • Virginia (2 years)*
  • Wisconsin (2 years after age 18)*

*States that toll the statute of limitations until the victim turns 18.

** States that toll the statute of limitations until 2 years of the last act, 2 years of age 18, or 2 years of discovery, up to 20 years from age 18.

Within 3 years from the date of the incident

  • Arkansas
  • District of Columbia
  • Kansas (from the realization of injury or age 18)
  • Mississippi (and 3 years from age 18)
  • Missouri (3 years from the date of discovery of the abuse or 5 years from age 18)
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire (3 years from discovery or 12 years from 18)
  • New Mexico (or until the victim turns 24)
  • North Carolina*
  • Oregon (3 years from discovery or 6 years of age 18)
  • South Carolina (3 years from the realization of injury or 6 years from age 21)**
  • South Dakota
  • Washington (3 years from act or discovery)*

*States that toll the statute of limitations until the victim turns 18.

** States that toll the statute of limitations until the victim turns 21.

Within 4-7 years from the date of the incident

  • Iowa (4 years)
  • Kentucky (5 years from incident, discovery, or age 18)
  • Maryland (7 years from age 18)
  • Minnesota (6 years)*
  • Nebraska (4 years, under general tort SOL)**
  • Rhode Island (7 years from act or discovery or 3 years of accrual)
  • Vermont (6 years)

*States that toll the statute of limitations until the victim turns 18.

** States that toll the statute of limitations until the victim turns 21.

Within 10-12 years from the date of the incident

  • California (10 years)
  • Illinois (10 years)
  • Louisiana (10 years)*
  • Nevada (10 years from date or age 18)*
  • North Dakota (10 years)
  • Ohio (12 years from age 18)*
  • Pennsylvania (12 years from age 18)*

*States that toll the statute of limitations until the victim turns 18.

Within 15-35 years from the date of the incident

  • Texas (15 years)*
  • Colorado (20 years)
  • Connecticut (30 years)
  • Massachusetts (35 years)*
  • West Virginia (20 years)

*States that toll the statute of limitations until the victim turns 18.

No special statute of limitations

  • Alabama (can be brought within 2 years of injury)
  • Alaska (can file at any time)
  • Arizona (same as general SOL, unless minority and disability)
  • Maine (can file at any time)
  • Michigan (same as general SOL, within 10 years of the act)
  • Utah (can file at any time)

Other statutes of limitations

In Florida, any claims founded on alleged sexual abuse of incest may be filed within 4 years after the victim is no longer dependent on the abuser, 4 years from the time of discovery of the abuse or injury, or within 7 years after the victim turns 18.

In Georgia, effective July 1, 2015, any civil action alleging childhood sexual abuse should be filed before the victim turns 53 years old unless it is a crime for which the law stipulates a statute of limitations no longer than 15 years.

In Idaho, in cases dating after July 1, 1989, the suit may be brought within 5 years of the victim turning 18.

In Wyoming, victims must file sexual abuse claims within 3 years from the discovery of the abuse or within 8 years after turning 18.

What to Expect After Filing a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

Once you’ve filed your lawsuit and named the parties responsible for the abuse, these defendants will have an opportunity to file a response—or “answer”—to the complaint. This answer will admit or deny specific allegations, giving you and your attorney a better idea of what evidence will be needed to build the strongest possible case.

As the case progresses, both parties can seek discovery from the opposing parties. This discovery may include any physical evidence in a party’s possession, judicial admissions, affidavits, and other relevant evidence.

At some point, the defendant may offer to settle the claim outside of court. Accepting a settlement offer usually means dismissing the civil claim and agreeing that the settlement amount discharges any potential claims you could bring against a defendant. This is one reason it’s crucial to seek an attorney’s advice as early as possible in the process—your attorney is in the best position to evaluate a settlement offer and ensure that it offers fair compensation for your claims.

Virginia Sexual Assault Statute of Limitations: 2 (or More) Years

Virginia has eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for all felony sex crimes. This means that an offender can be prosecuted for rape, sexual battery, or other serious sex crimes even decades after the offense.

Calculating the statute of limitations for civil sexual assault claims is tougher. 

Sometimes, the “default” two-year SOL for personal injury claims applies. In other cases, the SOL can be tolled, or paused, based on the circumstances. 

Reporting sexual assault can be tough, and it’s important to go at your own pace. Far too often, survivors are afraid to step forward because they fear their attacker or because they feel it is too late to take action. 

Don’t let the statute of limitations prevent you from seeking help—there are a variety of exceptions that can extend or pause the statute of limitations for a particular case. Contact an attorney in your state to discuss your legal options.

Sexual Assault Statutes of Limitations in the U.S.

As with sexual abuse, each state sets forth its own sexual assault statute of limitation. But unlike the sexual abuse limitation periods, sexual assault statutes of limitations can usually be measured in single-digit years.

Within 1 year from the date of the incident

  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Tennessee

Within 2 years from the date of the incident

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Within 3 years from the date of the incident

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • District of Columbia
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Washington

Within 4 to 6 years from the date of the incident

  • Minnesota (6 years)
  • Missouri (5 years)
  • Nebraska (4 years)
  • New York (5 years)
  • Texas (5 years)
  • Utah (4 years)
  • Wyoming (4 years)

Other statutes of limitations

A few states have either done away with the sexual assault statute of limitations entirely or have made it flexible according to the facts of the case.

In Connecticut, there is no time limit within which to bring cases of sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault.

In Florida, a sexual assault victim has seven years from the age of majority (18), four years after they leave the dependency of their abuser, or four years from the time the sexual assault is discovered—whichever is latest.

In Illinois, there’s no statute of limitations in a civil lawsuit alleging Class X felony aggravated criminal sexual assault, Class X felony predatory criminal sexual assault, or Class 1 felony criminal sexual assault.

What to Expect After Filing a Sexual Assault Lawsuit 

Like a sexual abuse lawsuit, once you’ve filed the complaint, the defendants will have an opportunity to file an answer, narrowing the claims at issue.

It’s also important to note that any civil claim will proceed on a separate track from a criminal claim. In other words, if the defendant is also being criminally charged with sexual assault, these cases won’t be litigated together—a defendant can be found civilly liable for sexual assault even if the criminal case never results in a conviction. What’s more, a plaintiff is free to bring a civil sexual assault claim even if the defendant was never criminally charged.

To avoid litigating the same facts in two separate proceedings, some courts may pause, or “stay,” the civil action until the criminal proceeding has concluded. And this delay can come with some benefits; if the defendant is convicted of sexual assault in criminal court, this is likely to bolster the strength of your civil sexual assault claim.

Next Steps

When You’re Ready, Take Action

It’s important to know your rights in filing a lawsuit against your attacker so you can move forward and pursue the justice you deserve. 

Our Virginia sexual assault attorneys work with our clients to help them understand what options they have and how they can protect their rights after an attack. At Breit Biniazan, we put your needs first. We’ll treat your case with the care and respect it deserves. 

To set up a free consultation, contact us online or call us at 855-212-8200.

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