Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Sexual Misconduct by Clergy and Church Workers - Part 3
The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that an adult woman who claimed that she had been molested as a child at a church-operated preschool was not barred by the statute of limitations from suing the church.
Key pointNegligence as a Basis for Liability The statute of limitations specifies the deadline for filing a civil lawsuit. Lawsuits cannot be brought after this deadline has passed. There are a few exceptions that have been recognized by some courts: (1) The statute of limitations for injuries suffered by a minor begins to run on the minor's 18th birthday. (2) The statute of limitations does not begin to run until an adult survivor of child sexual molestation "discovers" that he or she has experienced physical or emotional suffering as a result of the molestation. (3) The statute of limitations does not begin to run until an adult with whom a minister or church counselor has had sexual contact "discovers" that his or her psychological damages were caused by the inappropriate contact. (4) The statute of limitations is suspended due to fraud or concealment of a cause of action.

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that an adult woman who claimed that she had been molested as a child at a church-operated preschool was not barred by the statute of limitations from suing the church for the psychological injuries she sustained. An adult woman ("Amy") claimed to have "recovered" memories while in nursing school of being sexually molested as a young child by a man at a church-operated preschool. Amy even recalled particular physical characteristics of the abuser-crooked teeth, bushy eyebrows, and frizzy hair. She also remembered the abuser warning her that if she told anyone about the abuse she would be "overtaken by the devil." Shortly after recovering these memories, Amy sued the church that operated the preschool. She alleged that the church was legally responsible for her injuries on the basis of invasion of privacy, negligent supervision, and breach of warranty. She claimed the abuser removed her from supervised rest periods to molest her. In response, the church alleged that all the victim's claims were barred because they were brought after the statute of limitations had expired. Under South Carolina law, the victim had to file her lawsuit within one year of her 21st birthday. She missed this deadline by nearly two years. The trial court agreed with the church, and dismissed the lawsuit. An appeals court reversed this ruling, and the case was appealed to the state supreme court.

Log In For Full Access

Interested in becoming a member? Learn more.

Posted: July 2, 2001
View All
from our store
Pastor, Church & Law, Fifth Edition

Pastor, Church & Law, Fifth Edition

Learn which local, state, and federal laws apply to religious organizations.
Managing the Legal Risks of Lay Counseling

Managing the Legal Risks of Lay Counseling

Develop specific policies and procedures that protect your church, lay caregivers, and those who receive care.
Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting Laws

Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting Laws

State by state laws to report child abuse.
Church Issues: Waivers and Release Forms and Church Liability

Church Issues: Waivers and Release Forms and Church Liability

What these documents do—and don't do—based on statutes and court decisions made nationwide.

ChurchSalary

ChurchSalary

Let ChurchSalary do the work. Get personalized compensation reports for staff and pastors.