The Repressed Memory Theory in Pennsylvania Priest and Child Sex Abuse Cases

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With the recent Penn State sex abuse scandal and the Philadelphia Archdiocese priest abuse criminal trial, the time is right for Pennsylvania to reverse prior case law regarding a victim’s ability to bring a civil lawsuit.

Like its neighboring state, New Jersey, Pennsylvania should allow victims to proceed in civil priest and child sex abuse cases using a repressed memory theory to overcome the statute of limitations. In other words, in cases where the statute of limitations has already expired, if the victim’s memories were repressed and there is evidence of such, Pennsylvania courts should allow the civil cases to go forward. Read our free legal article about the statute of limitations in a civil priest and child sex abuse case in Pennsylvania.

Under current Pennsylvania law, child sex abuse victims, including those abused by priests or members of the clergy, are not permitted to toll the statute of limitations by arguing a repressed memory theory.

Pennsylvania Priest and Child Sex Abuse & the Repressed Memory Theory

Here’s a basic history of the repressed memory theory in Pennsylvania courts:

  • 1991-Pennsylvania federal court civil sex abuse case, Bailey v. Lewis

Applying the Pennsylvania statute, the court refused to toll the statute of limitations for the period of time that the plaintiff-victim’s memories were repressed.

  • 1992-Pennsylvania federal court civil sex abuse case, Hewczuk v. Sambor

In an unusual move, this court upheld the jury award in a case where the plaintiff-victim’s memories of childhood abuse were suppressed for over 30 years. In this case, the plaintiff’s childhood medical records corroborated her suppressed memories, which plaintiff recalled spontaneously on her own, without a therapist.

  • 1996-Pennsylvania Superior Court civil sex abuse case, Pearce v. Salvation Army

The court refused to allow the repressed memory theory to be used to toll the statute of limitations where the plaintiff-victim revived suppressed memories only through therapy.

  • 1997-Pennsylvania Supreme Court civil sex abuse case, Dalrymple v. Brown

In 1997, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shut the door on the repressed memory theory, for good. The court made clear that under Pennsylvania law, the statute of limitations could not be tolled for claims involving repressed memories. The court stated that the statute of limitations could only be tolled in situations where “the injured party is reasonably unaware that an injury has been sustained.”

Related Pennsylvania Priest and Child Sex Abuse Civil Law Articles:

For more information, contact a Pennsylvania or New Jersey priest/clergy sex abuse lawyer.

Former sex crimes unit prosecutor and now civil crime victims lawyer, Guy D’Andrea, always offers free, confidential consultations. Call 800-220-7600.

**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: September 2, 2012