No Extension of Statute of Limitations in Molestation Case

Court rejects “discovery” argument in decision.

Church Law and Tax 1993-01-01 Recent Developments

Personal Injuries – On Church Property or During Church Activities

A New York court refused to extend the “statute of limitations” to allow an alleged victim of child sexual molestation to sue the minister who he claimed was the molester. The alleged victim was a 31-year-old male who claimed to have been sexually molested as a 14-year-old boy by a Catholic priest. The alleged victim claimed to have suffered severe psychological and emotional damage as a result of the molestation. In explaining why the victim waited 17 years to sue, the lawsuit alleged that the incidents of molestation triggered various “psychological coping mechanisms” that prevented the victim from associating his damages with the molestation until many years later. The victim asked the court to apply the so-called “discovery” rule, whereby the statute of limitations (the statute specifying the time limit for filing a lawsuit) does not begin to run until a victim “discovers” his or her injury. Without such a rule, the statute of limitations generally begins to run as of the date of injury, whether or not the victim is aware of the injury. If an injury occurs when a victim is a minor, the statute begins to run when the victim reaches the age of majority. Obviously, adoption of the discovery rule would extend significantly the time period during which a lawsuit could be filed. While a number of states have adopted the discovery rule in cases of child sexual abuse or molestation (in most cases, by statute), most have not done so. New York is one of those states that has not adopted the discovery rule. The court in this case note that the highest state court in New York (the Court of Appeals) had consistently refused to adopt the discovery rule in cases of child molestation. Further, the state legislature had not adopted this rule. Accordingly, the court concluded that it had no option but to reject the discovery rule in this case and rule that the 31-year-old victim could not maintain his lawsuit against the priest. The judge added, “I reach this conclusion without enthusiasm, aware that the [victim] asserts that he was the victim of a most grievous wrong. I am, however, compelled to this conclusion by the law as I read it. The [victim] must seek relief from the legislature or a higher court.” Bassile v. Covenant House, 575 N.Y.S.2d 233 (Sup. 1991).

See Also: Negligence as a Basis for Liability – Defenses

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