Sexual assaults are traumatic events that no one should ever have to experience. If it does happen, survivors of sexual assault deserve to be treated in a way that helps victims recover and heal.
Unfortunately, sexual assault and abuse cases often involve a criminal prosecution and also complex civil court cases. The laws surrounding these cases can be complicated. Recently, Philadelphia’s laws concerning sexual abuse have been significantly updated to benefit victims of abuse. It is important to work with lawyers who thoroughly understand the complexities of sexual assault and abuse.
Philadelphia’s changes to sexual assault cases have been in the wake of a cultural change in America when it comes to addressing survivors of abuse and neglect — especially in cases when their abuse and neglect has come at the hands of someone in a position of power.
The first change in the law surrounding sexual assault cases has to do with traditional governmental immunities that prevent certain claims. Governmental entities can no longer utilize traditional governmental immunity for sexual assault claims. The claims that are no longer subject to governmental immunities are listed in 42 Pa.C.S. § 8542(b)(9):
Conduct which constitutes an offense [perpetrated against a minor in the nature of sex trafficking, sexual servitude, rape, statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, institutional sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, or incest] if the injuries to the plaintiff were caused by actions or omissions of the local agency which constitute negligence.
Additionally, the changes eliminated governmental damage limitations for specific sexual abuse claims. Historically, § 8553 of the PSTCA provides damage limitations for local agencies. Traditionally, this capped claims at $500,000 for municipal claims. Under the new subsection (e), no damage limitations apply to damage awards under the new exception for sexual abuse.
The statute of limitations has long been a source of contention when it comes to sexual abuse claims. The entire state of Pennsylvania changed the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims recently.
In the past, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5522 mandated that a local agency be provided with written notice of the claimant’s loss (in this case, their sexual abuse incident) within six months after it occurred as a condition precedent to filing a civil action. The notice requirement has been eliminated by the legislature for sexual abuse claims. Further, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5533 has been amended to increase the limitations period for bringing suit on a claim of sexual abuse. The relevant provision at § 5533 (b)(2)(i) now states:
If an individual entitled to bring a civil action arising from sexual abuse is under 18 years of age at the time the cause of action accrues, the individual shall have a period of 37 years after attaining 18 years of age in which to commence an action for damages regardless of whether the individual files a criminal complaint regarding sexual abuse.
The statute of limitations provides no defense for a government entity sued under the sexual abuse exception unless the victim has reached 55.
While the changes to Philadelphia laws have been overwhelmingly positive for the survivors of sexual abuse, some details can cause trouble for survivors seeking legal action.
For instance, the statute’s extension of limitations does not revive claims as to which the statute had expired before the date of enactment (November 26, 2019). It also does not permit a new cause of action to be raised upon claims which have already been formally settled or taken to judgment.
You’re not alone in thinking these terms are confusing, but the good news is, a sexual abuse lawyer can help you work out the intricacies of your claim. If you or someone you know has been sexually abused, contact VSCP LAW immediately to have your claim evaluated by a specialist in sexual abuse claims, even if it happened years ago.