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Is there a time limit on bringing a sexual abuse claim?

In cases involving personal injury, including sexual abuse and sexual assault cases, court proceedings must be commenced within 3 years from the ‘date of knowledge’, or 3 years from the claimant’s 18th birthday if they were under 18 at the time of the abuse or assault.

The ‘date of knowledge’ is the date on which the victim knew, or ought reasonably to have known, they had suffered the injury.

In sexual assault cases, this is usually the date of the assault but it can be later – for example, in cases of date rape where the victim has been drugged and did not know until later what had happened to them.

What happens if the time limit has expired?

A claimant can still commence proceedings.  However, the defendant potentially has a ‘complete defence’ to the claim, on the grounds that the time limit for bringing a claim has expired.

For many victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault, seeking legal advice is extremely difficult.  Often, victims feel unable to talk about their experience even with their own family.  It may be many years into their adulthood before they feel able to talk about their experience and seek legal advice.  Unfortunately, it is therefore common for victims to face difficulties with regard to time limits for bringing a personal injury claim.

Does the law still allow certain cases to proceed, after the time limit is up?

Section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980 gives the Court the power to disapply the normal 3-year time limit and allow a claim to proceed out of time.  The Court will consider whether it would be fair to allow the case to proceed, having regard to the prejudice to each of the parties.  In many cases, a significant amount of time will have passed.  However, this does not automatically mean the defendant is prejudiced.  The factors the Court will take into account include:

  1. The length of and reasons for the delay;
  2. The extent to which the cogency of the evidence has been affected by the delay;
  3. The conduct of the defendant since;
  4. The duration of any disability the claimant has suffered since the abuse or assault;
  5. Whether the claimant acted promptly once they knew the Defendant’s actions might be capable of giving rise to an action for damages;
  6. The steps taken by the claimant to obtain medical, legal or other expert evidence and the nature of the advice they received.

The Court will consider all of the circumstances of the case.  In short – if you are a victim of sexual assault or abuse, it is never too late to seek legal advice.

Further information

If you are a victim of sexual assault or abuse, it is never too late to seek legal advice.

Our specialist Accident and Injury team has expertise in this area of law.  We offer a free initial consultation and are here to help.  Please contact Richard Green, Solicitor Associate on 01275 858515 or richard.green@wards.uk.com, or one of the members of our Accident and Injury team.

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