A state appeals court revived the lawsuit by a victim of sexual abuse by his parish priest in the 1980s because the church’s insurer failed to notify him of the statute of limitations period.
California has revised the statute of limitations for the victims of childhood sexual abuse many times since the 1980s. In this case, the victim, now 37 and from Southern California, was identified only as John Me Doe in court papers. He saw a therapist paid for by the church’s insurer in 1988.
But Doe’s suit alleges the therapist was handpicked and sympathetic to the church as part of a larger effort to pacify victims of abuse and shield the offending priest.
The victim sued in 2010 saying he did not discover that he had “adult-onset psychological injuries” caused by the molestation until 2008.
He alleged the church knew of the priest’s misconduct for a long time and encouraged him “to flee before his was arrested,” the Second District Court of Appeals states.
The insurer and three Catholic entities, also identified only as Doe defendants, argued that the victim was barred from suing after 2003, one of the last extensions of the time period to sue.
The defendants maintained the state insurance code did not toll, i.e. halt the clock, on the limitations beyond his 26th birthday. He was 26 in 2001 and thus, had to sue by 2003, according to the defense.
Justice Laurence Rubin disagreed. He noted the state insurance code requires notification in writing of the statute of limitations for those with a legal claim.
It warns that “failure to provide such written notice shall operate to toll any such applicable statute of limitations or time limits…” Rubin said.
This lead the court to conclude that Doe’s cause of action for childhood sexual abuse “was legitimately tolled by any applicable statutory provision and did not have to be brought during the 2003 revival window…”
This may have important ramifications in other injury suits – beyond sexual abuse — that were previously considered blocked by legal time limits to file.
The case goes back to the trial court in Los Angeles for reinstatement.
Justices Madeleine Flier and Elizabeth Grimes joined Rubin.
Case: Doe v. Defendant Doe 1, No. B233498