• Key point. Minors who are sexually molested by church workers may not sue their church after the statute of limitations has expired. Generally, the statute of limitations begins to run on a minor’s 18th birthday. In some states 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. Other states do not recognize this so—called “discovery rule.”
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a 33—year—old adult’s lawsuit against a school counselor who molested him when he was 11 years old was barred by the statute of limitations. The counselor expressed an interest in the victim, and visited him in his home on several occasions. He eventually asked the boy’s mother if he could take her son to a remote cabin that he owned. The mother agreed, and the counselor took the victim to the cabin several times. During these trips the counselor repeatedly raped the boy. Prior to these incidents, the victim had no childhood problems. He was a well—adjusted, active student who enjoyed school. His mother described him as having been, before the abuse, a bright, energetic child and a talented student. The victim’s behavior changed drastically after he became acquainted with the counselor. He skipped school, became involved with crime, and abused drugs and alcohol. He was transferred to a correctional institution, and never graduated from high school. He entered a chemical dependency program when he was 19, but continued to abuse alcohol until he was 28. The victim never discussed the abuse with his mother or anyone else, because he was embarrassed and ashamed and thought of himself as a “bad person.” When the victim was 22 years old he unexpectedly encountered the counselor again when the counselor and a young boy entered his place of employment. The victim became enraged and “freaked out” because he suspected that the counselor was molesting the young boy and such behavior “shouldnt happen to little kids.” He did not explain to his co—workers the reason for his reaction.
In 1991, when he was 32 years old, the victim came across a man who had attended elementary school with him. They began talking about their school days, and problems they had experienced since school. The man informed the victim that he had been molested by the counselor, and that he associated most of his problems with the molestation. This revelation was a “spark” that enabled the victim to realize that the counselor’s acts of molestation may have caused his own behavioral problems. He sued the counselor the next year (1992), along with his former school. A trial court threw the case out on the ground that it had been filed after the “statute of limitations” had expired. A state appeals court reversed this decision and ruled that the statute of limitations did not bar the victims lawsuit. The state supreme court overturned this result, and reinstated the trial court’s decision that the lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations.
Under Minnesota law, adults may file a lawsuit for incidents of molestation occurring when they were minors if they do so within six years of the time they “knew or had reason to know that the injury was caused by the sexual abuse.” The supreme court concluded that it did not have to decide when the victim “had reason to know” that his emotional injuries were caused by the abuse, because the victims own testimony “overwhelmingly demonstrates that he knew of the sexual abuse long [ago] and that the cause of action expired prior to the commencement of this action.” The court noted that the victim refrained from sharing the incidents of abuse with counselors during his adult chemical dependency treatment because of his sense of shame over what had occurred. Further, his reaction to the surprise encounter with his former school counselor “demonstrates with utmost clarity that by that time he was fully aware of the abusive nature of their relationship because he was concerned for the welfare of the young boy accompanying [the counselor].” As a result, “a reasonable person should have known at either point in time that he had been injured by [the counselors] conduct.”
Application. This case illustrates the dilemma that adult survivors of child sexual abuse often face when they sue the offender (and his employer)-they must demonstrate that they were injured by the abuse, but doing so may result in the dismissal of their claim since it will trigger the statute of limitations. Blackowiak v. Kemp, 528 N.W.2d 247 (Minn. App. 1995). [Seduction of Counselees and Church Members, Negligence as a Basis for Liability—Defenses]
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