I was abused by a priest when I was in school. Can I bring a civil lawsuit for the abuse?


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A: Unfortunately, many victims do not file a lawsuit because of the intense feelings of guilt, shame, and fear which often result from the horrific acts committed upon them by sexual predators, such as members of the clergy or priests.

However, in many situations of priest sex abuse, depending on the age of the victim when the abuse occurred, the victim will be able to to bring a lawsuit against the priest. There may be additional claims against any other person or business which contributed to the abuse by either failing to report the abuse or otherwise giving the priest access to children.

Determining whether a claim is time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations involves analyzing the facts, the dates, and the law. It is crucial to speak to a qualified sex abuse crime victims’ civil justice lawyer immediately. The following answer is for information only.

In New Jersey, the statute of limitations for child sex abuse or sex assault is two years from the date the plaintiff reasonably discovered that an injury resulted from an act of sex abuse.

In Pennsylvania, victims of sex assault or abuse who were over the age of 18 when the abuse happened have two years after the abuse occurred to file their claims. For victims who suffered abuse as children or minors, the statute of limitations analysis is pretty complex. As a general rule, the older the case, the more challenging it is to bring a case.

In 2002, the Pennsylvania legislature amended its statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases. After 2002, those who suffer sex abuse as minors have until their 30th birthday to file a lawsuit. So for instance, someone who suffered sexual abuse as a minor from 2003 to the present have until their 30th birthday to file suit. However, under this special statute of limitations, for abuse that occurred before 2002, the law is very complex.

Those who were under 18 as of 2002 have until their 30th birthday to file suit. For victims who were abused as minors and were over the age of 18 in 2002, their cases are likely to be time-barred today. However, there are multiple exceptions which may apply, such as the fraudulent concealment exception.

In addition, there have been attempts to amend Pennsylvania’s sex abuse statute of limitations, and if successful, may allow any victim to bring a civil lawsuit to seek justice for what happened to them. As an example, the Delaware legislature in 2007 opened a two year window, allowing any victim of sex abuse to file suit no matter when the abuse occurred. If Pennsylvania follows Delaware’s example, it could open a small window to allow any victim of sex abuse to file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator and any other party who negligently allowed the abuse to continue.

Each situation varies and the statute of limitations may bar a claim, so it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible.

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To submit your case for review by our Pennsylvania and New Jersey priest and clergy sex abuse lawyers, call Click To Call. Our lawyers are available for a free, no obligation legal consultation, and can obtain special admission in other states, such as New York or Delaware, on a case by case basis.

Our attorneys serve crime victims in the following areas: Allegheny County, PA; Berks County, PA; Bucks County, PA; Chester County, PA; Delaware County, PA; Lehigh County, PA; Montgomery County, PA; Northampton County, PA: Philadelphia County, PA; Atlantic County, NJ; Burlington County, NJ; Camden County, NJ; Cumberland County, NJ; Gloucester County, NJ; Salem County, NJ; New Castle County, DE; Kent County, DE; Atlantic City, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; Newark, NJ; Doylestown, PA; Media, PA; West Chester, PA; Norristown, PA; Camden, NJ; Wilmington, DE; Newark, DE; Georgetown, DE; and New Castle, DE. Our lawyers can obtain special admission in other states on a case by case basis.

**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.

Published: May 12, 2012