Sexual abuse is far more common than it should be. Victims of sexual abuse often come forward years after the events, and many find themselves without legal recourse because of strict laws. The statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims in Texas has historically been quite short, which often prohibits childhood sexual abuse victims from coming forward and seeking justice in civil court. The Queenan Law Firm’s Arlington, TX sexual abuse victim lawyers explain how long you have to file a claim and why different statutes of limitations might affect your case differently depending on when the events took place.
What is Texas’ Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations for Civil Claims?
Almost every type of civil lawsuit and criminal charge has a “statute of limitations.” These laws bar claims that are too old from being filed in court, favoring more recent cases and victims who come forward quickly about what happened to them. For most injury cases in Texas, the statute of limitations is quite short: Victims of personal injuries usually have two years from the date of injury to file their claims.
Victims of sexual abuse have a different statute of limitations to look at in some cases. If the conduct you are suing for would violate various penal code sections involving child victims, Texas Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.0045(a) gives you up to 30 years from the date the conduct took place. This covers things like childhood sexual abuse and other sexual assault claims involving child victims.
Even more helpful for child sexual abuse victims, this 30-year limitations period does not begin to run until the child turns 18. This means that victims abused as children actually have until their 48th birthday to file their claim in many cases.
For adult sexual abuse and sexual assault victims, the statute of limitations is usually 5 years under Texas Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.0045(b).
Statute of Limitations for Older Sexual Abuse Cases in Texas
This deadline to file was extended at various points in time by newer legislation. Nothing in this law says that the statute of limitations is extended retroactively, which creates some odd scenarios and confusing filing deadlines.
If a statute of limitations is changed, it usually means that anyone who was abused or injured before the law changed has to use the old statute of limitations that was in effect when the abuse took place. This deadline was extended to 30 years on September 1, 2019. Before that, the statute of limitations was 15 years, and that law went into effect September 1, 2015. Before that, the statute of limitations was 5 years, dating back to at least June 5, 1995.
To clarify, that means that if your abuse took place…
- Between June 5, 1995 and September 1, 2015, you have 5 years from your 18th birthday to file.
- Between September 1, 2015 and September 1, 2019, you have 15 years from your 18th birthday to file.
- After September 1, 2019, you have 30 years from your 18th birthday to file.
However, there might be other exceptions that allow victims additional time to file their cases, and our Dallas attorneys to represent sexual abuse victims can help.
Tolling the Statute of Limitations and Extending Filing Deadlines for Childhood Sexual Abuse in Texas
It is incredibly difficult to come forward about sexual abuse. Especially if the abuse occurred when you were a child, you might have hazy memories of what happened, and accusing someone like a priest, camp counselor, or teacher in a position of power can be incredibly stressful and maybe even dangerous for children. As an adult, you often have more sense of what happened and might have more courage to come forward about what happened, so it is incredibly important that the law recognize this and give victims tools to have their case heard.
For childhood sexual abuse victims in Texas, there are a few tools to “toll” or pause the statute of limitations. Texas Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.001 gives two of these tools. First, if you were a minor when the events took place, the statute of limitations does not start running until you turn 18. Second, if you had a disability that makes you “of unsound mind” and unable to appreciate what happened to you, the clock could be paused until the disability ceases.
If you did not discover that you were the victim of sexual abuse until later in life, you might also be able to have the statute of limitations “tolled” or paused under the “discovery rule.” This should allow the clock to be paused until the time you discover the cause of the harm – i.e., that you discover you were abused as a child. Then, the 5-, 15-, or 30-year clock will begin to run from that point.
Lastly, victims of sexual abuse are entitled to file a claim against an unknown party, tolling the statute of limitations until they can find the abuser. If you have a claim and know you were abused but have difficulty identifying who abused you, you can file a placeholder case against “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” in the courts. This can be helpful for suing teachers, camp counselors, scout masters, or other people whose names you might not remember. Once you find out the actual name of the abuser, you must substitute their name into the court documents within 30 days.
Call Our Texas Sexual Abuse Victim Lawyers for a Free, Confidential Consultation
If you were abused as a child or an adult, The Queenan Law Firm’s Houston attorneys to represent sexual abuse victims might be able to help you seek justice and get compensation from the responsible parties. We can also help you file these cases against any responsible institutions, such as the Catholic Church, scouting organizations, camps, and schools. For a free, confidential legal consultation on your potential case, call our Arlington, TX personal injury lawyers today at (817) 476-1797.