Illinois Appellate Court Upholds Dismissal of Sexual Abuse Personal Injury Claim Based on Statute of Limitations

monochrome ticking clockIn a recent opinion from the First District of the Illinois Appellate Court, the plaintiff appealed an order dismissing a complaint she filed in November 2013, alleging that the defendant was liable for negligence, civil battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The dismissal was based on the lower court’s finding that the plaintiff’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations.

In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged that she suffered damages as a result of sexual abuse perpetrated by the defendant, beginning when she was 16 years old. The defendant alleged that the abuse occurred at overnight church camps where the defendant was a church leader and in charge of the church’s youth group program. More specifically, the plaintiff contended that in the summer of 1996, when she was 16 years of age, the plaintiff had conversations with the defendant about pursuing a mentor-mentee relationship. According to her complaint, the plaintiff was seeking spiritual guidance and mentorship in these conversations. Soon after these conversations, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant began engaging in inappropriate physical contact and other uninvited advances. The complaint lists multiple specific instances of sexual abuse and contends that the incidences ceased around 1999, when the plaintiff was 20 years of age.

The plaintiff’s complaint states that the plaintiff did not report the incidences to anyone, fearing the repercussions that might occur. The defendant had also threatened to commit suicide in the event the plaintiff reported the incidences or shared them with anyone. In 1999, the plaintiff reported experiencing anxiety, nightmares, sadness, and other emotional conditions related to the abuse.

After the plaintiff filed her complaint, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss, alleging that the statute of limitations expired in 2001, two years after the plaintiff knew or should have known that her injuries were a result of the alleged abuse. The lower court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit. On appeal, the court first reviewed the applicable statute of limitations, which requires that a personal injury action seeking damages for alleged personal abuse be commenced within two years of the day that the victim discovers or should have discovered that his or her injuries were a result of sexual abuse.

Based on its review of the record, the appellate court concluded that the lower court was correct in dismissing the action based on the statute of limitations. First, in several instances in which the plaintiff was testifying about her emotional response to the abuse, the plaintiff testified that she experienced feelings of emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, humiliation, and physical manifestations of these injuries immediately after the alleged abuse occurred. She also testified that she experienced these feelings whenever the defendant engaged in unwanted advances. Ultimately, based on the evidence in the record, the appellate court concluded that the plaintiff had knowledge that her injuries were a result of the abuse when she was approximately 16 years old.

One of the most critical aspects of preserving your legal rights following a harmful event is ensuring that you file your claim within the statute of limitations. Knowing which timeline applies to your claim and when the statute starts running can be confusing, which is why it is a good idea to consult an experienced Illinois personal injury lawyer to assist you in preparing and filing your claim. At Therman Law Offices, we have assisted countless victims throughout the region and are prepared to provide your family and you with the dedicated and compassionate legal counsel that you deserve. To schedule your free consultation, call us now at 312-588-1900 or contact us online.

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