What is the Statute of Limitations for a Child Sexual Abuse Claim in California?

The sexual abuse of children is one of the worst horrors in our society, and, tragically, one that perpetrators and institutions take steps to cover up to avoid liability. Even an institution such as the Los Angeles archdiocese of the Catholic Church spent decades covering up sexual abuse of children by at least a dozen priests, leading to the payment of $606 million in compensation to a staggering 508 victims of sexual abuse in 2007.


Child sexual abuse can happen anywhere, and it is clear that it may take years and even decades for victims to become fully aware of their abuse, their injuries, and their rights in coming forward to hold abusers and their enablers accountable while obtaining financial recovery for their injuries. Fortunately, California state law provides extended time by which survivors of child sexual abuse can come forward via the state’s statute of limitations.

California’s Eight-Year and Three-Year Child Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations Explained

California’s civil procedure laws were amended in the early 1990’s to account for the fact that childhood sexual abuse can remain hidden for an extended period of time to the victims of abuse and their families. The statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse reads as follows:


“In an action for recovery of damages suffered as a result of childhood sexual abuse, the time for commencement of the action shall be within eight years of the date the plaintiff attains the age of majority or within three years of the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring after the age of majority was caused by the sexual abuse, whichever period expires later, for any of the following actions.”


What this means is that there are several windows of time in which a person can bring a claim, and can use whichever window is longer. First, the victim has eight years after they reach the age of majority – which is typically when they turn 18, although this may be later in cases such as disability – meaning the victim could bring an action up to the time they are at least 26 years old.


But that time may be longer. The “three years” language in the statute means that a victim of childhood sexual abuse can bring an action even after they turn 26 – including many years later in some cases – if they did not develop a psychological injury or illness related to the abuse until a later time, which is not uncommon with childhood sexual trauma. A potential plaintiff thus has three years after the date of discovery of this injury or illness to bring a claim, which could be decades after the abuse.

There Is No Time Limit if Insufficient Actions Were Taken to Prevent the Abuse

Even if the person is over 26 and has known of their psychological injuries or illnesses for longer than three years, he or she still may bring a claim in some cases where the institution responsible failed to take reasonable safeguards to prevent it.


The California civil procedure laws go on to state:


“This subdivision does not apply if the person or entity knew or had reason to know, or was otherwise on notice, of any unlawful sexual conduct by an employee, volunteer, representative, or agent, and failed to take reasonable steps, and to implement reasonable safeguards, to avoid acts of unlawful sexual conduct in the future by that person…”


What this means is that if the defendant in the child sexual abuse claim knew that someone it was legally responsible for (an employee, volunteer, representative, or agent) was committing sexual abuse, or even had reason to know (which might include signs of abuse even if they were not definitive), but did not take adequate steps to prevent the abuse, then the plaintiff in the claim will have unlimited time in which to bring the claim.

Speak to a California Attorney About Your Sexual Abuse Claim

The civil litigation attorneys at The Law Offices of Omar Gastelum and Associates, PLC, with offices in Los Angeles and Newport Beach, have many years of experience representing men and women from all walks of life in pursuing the justice and compensation they deserve. For help in understanding the next steps in bringing your sexual abuse claim, contact our office today to schedule a consultation.