What Is the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault?

sexually abused woman staring out of foggy window

Sexual assault is a serious crime that can leave victims with long-lasting emotional trauma. As difficult as it may be to ask for help after going through this kind of experience, victims should also beware that waiting too long may cause them to miss the deadline set by the statute of limitations. Failure to comply will eliminate your right to file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator.  

So, what is the statute of limitations governing sexual assault? The answer depends on where you live. Click on your state below to explore the governing deadline for sexual assault claims. 

 

Understanding the Legal Contours of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a crime on many levels. Therefore, when we think of the legal consequences of sexual assault, we normally envision a criminal prosecution and hefty jail sentence. These are certainly some of the possible consequences of committing this heinous crime. However, the legal system also allows victims of sexual assault to pursue justice and accountability through a civil personal injury lawsuit.

According to the Department of Justice, sexual assault “means any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks capacity to consent.” Of course, sexual assault can happen through physical force. It can also take place through coercion or with the aid of mind-altering substances like drugs and alcohol.  

In the interest of protecting as many victims as possible, a broad definition is appropriate. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, forms of sexual violence include:  

  • Rape or sexual assault 
  • Child sexual assault and incest 
  • Sexual assault by a person’s spouse or partner 
  • Unwanted sexual contact/touching 
  • Sexual harassment 
  • Sexual exploitation and trafficking 
  • Exposing one’s genitals or naked body to others without consent 
  • Masturbating in public 
  • Watching someone engage in private acts without their knowledge or permission 
  • Nonconsensual image sharing 

No matter the circumstances of your case, Warner Law Offices, PLLC, is here to ensure that you know your full legal rights and options. There is no charge to have one of our attorneys evaluate your case in a confidential consultation. We are here to help.

How Does the Statute of Limitations Affect Your Case?

Each state sets a different statute of limitations limiting the amount of time sexual assault victims have to file a civil claim against the perpetrator. Though there are exceptions, the deadline is usually strictly enforced. And since the consequence of a missed deadline is normally having your case dismissed in court, it is prudent to consult with an attorney as soon as possible.

Understanding Criminal vs. Civil Cases of Sexual Assault

When most people think of legal consequences stemming from sexual assault, they think of criminal prosecution. However, only the government can pursue criminal sexual assault charges. Further, prosecutors must satisfy a much higher evidentiary burden when bringing these cases. They must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. If they succeed, the defendant may face jail time, fines, probation, and other serious consequences.  

By contrast, a civil claim provides victims with a more direct path toward justice, accountability, and compensation. Unlike criminal cases, which are punitive in nature and designed to punish the defendant, civil cases are meant to compensate victims. Further, victims must generally satisfy a lower burden of evidence. They need only prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. 

Importantly, criminal prosecution and civil litigation are not mutually exclusive. Someone guilty of sexual assault can face both, sometimes simultaneously.

How Does Title IX Apply in Educational Settings?

In sexual assault cases involving educational settings, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 may come into play. As explained by the Department of Health and Human Services, this is because Title IX prohibits “engaging in gender-based or sexual harassment such as making unwelcome sexual comments, advances, and/or name-calling on the basis of sex.” Some cases illustrating how Title IX may apply include the following from 2023:  

  • Michigan State University fired its head football coach after allegations of sexual misconduct against a rape survivor and school vendor.  
  • A former cheerleader at Northwestern University filed charges against the school after experiencing harassment during mandated fundraising events

Closer to home, West Virginia University has noted an uptick in sexual assault-related reports in 2022. There were 21 reports of rape and 22 instances of stalking, a nearly 25% increase from the year before. If you are the victim of sexual assault perpetrated in an educational setting, Warner Law Offices, PLLC, is here to help you understand the law that may impact your case.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault in West Virginia?

In West Virginia, adult victims of sexual assault have two years to bring a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator. If the victim was a minor, they must file their claim “within 18 years after reaching the age of majority, or within four years after discovery of the sexual assault or sexual abuse, whichever is longer.”  

Warner Law Offices has the skills and experience necessary to handle a wide variety of civil litigation. We have successfully recovered millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for our clients in personal injury cases, including sexual assault. You can explore our client testimonials here. Some of our most recent wins include: 

  • $2.1 million for a sexual abuse case 

Warner Law Offices, PLLC, is standing by to evaluate your claim and make sure you know your full legal rights and options. Contact us today to schedule your free, confidential consultation with one of our compassionate and knowledgeable attorneys.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault in Michigan?

In Michigan, the period of limitations is 10 years for cases involving criminal sexual conduct.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault in Illinois?

In Illinois, there is a two-year statute of limitations for civil claims of sexual assault. However, the deadline does not apply if the case stems from an underlying Class X felony for which the defendant is convicted.

Statutes of Limitations for Sexual Assault By State

With fifty states across the country, keeping track of statutes of limitations can be difficult. Every once in a while, the deadlines might also be adjusted in the state legislatures. This section goes over the deadlines set in West Virginia, Michigan, and Illinois. It then provides a tabulated directory of the deadlines in the remaining 47 states.  

The following table provides a summary of the civil statutes of limitations governing sexual assault cases throughout the country. It is important to remember that laws sometimes change. Therefore, use this table as a reference point only, and be sure to consult with an attorney in case an exception applies in your case.

StateCitationStatute of Limitations (Civil)
AlabamaAla. Code § 6-2-38Two years
AlaskaAlaska Stat. § 09-10-065Three years for misdemeanor cases, incest, or felony indecent exposure; no limit on felony sexual assault, sexual abuse of a minor, or felony sex trafficking.
ArizonaA.R.S. § 12- 542(1)Two years in most cases.
ArkansasArk. Code § 16-56-130(a)Three years unless the victim was a minor; an extension applies three years from discovery if the victim is under 18.
CaliforniaCa. Civ. Proc. Code § 340.16; Assembly Bill No. 21810 years for victims over 18 or three years from discovery; if the victim was a minor, the limitation is 22 years or five years after discovery.
ColoradoColo. Rev. Stat. § 16-5-401Three years if the victim was under 18, they have an additional 20 years to file a claim.
ConnecticutConn. Gen. Stat. § 52-577e; Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-577dNo limit if the case stems from a criminal conviction of sexual assault; 30 years for civil cases involving a victim under the age of 21.
DelawareDel. Code tit. 10, § 8119; Del. Code tit. 10, § 8145Two years in most cases; until the age of 40 or five years from discovery in cases involving a minor under 18.
District of ColumbiaD.C. Code § 12-301(11)Until the age of 40 or five years from discovery for victims under the age of 35; victims over age 40 have five years from discovery.
FloridaFla. Stat. § 95.11(7), (9)Within seven years after reaching the age of majority or four years from the time of discovery, whichever is later; cases involving victims under the age of 16 have no time limits.
GeorgiaO.C.G.A. § 9-3- 33Two years in most cases.
HawaiiHaw. Rev. Stat. §657-7; Haw. Rev. Stat. § §657-1.8Two years; minor victims can file a claim for eight years after reaching the age of majority or three years after the discovery date.
IdahoIdaho Code § 5-219(4); Idaho Code § 6-1704(1)Two years, or five years after reaching the age of 18 for minor victims.
IllinoisSec. 13-202Two years
IndianaInd. Code § 34-11-2-4Two years; minor victims can file a civil claim within seven years of the action or four years after no longer being dependent on the abuser.
IowaIowa Code §669.13, Iowa Code §614.8ATwo years; minor victims have four years from the date of discovery.
KansasKan. Stat. § 60-513; Kan. Stat. § 60-523Two years; minor victims have 13 years after reaching the age of 18 or three years after the abuser is criminally convicted for child sex abuse crimes, whichever occurs later.
KentuckyKy. Rev. Stat. § 413.140; Ky. Rev. Stat. § 413.249One year; minor victims can file within five years of the last act, five years of the date of discovery, or five years after reaching the age of 18.
LouisianaCiv. Code §3492; Louisiana Revised Statute 9:2800.9(A)One year; minors can file a claim for up to 30 years after their 18th birthday.
MaineM.R.S.A. Tit. 14 § 752; Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 14, § 752-CSix years; no limitation for sexual acts against minors.
MarylandMd. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-101; Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-117Three years; minors can file a claim for seven years after reaching the age of majority.
MassachusettsMass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 4; Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, § 4CThree years; minors have 35 years after reaching the age of majority or seven years after discovery.
MichiganSec. 580510 years
MinnesotaMinn. Stat. § 541.073Six years; if the victim is a minor under 14 at the time of the assault, they must initiate a claim before the age of 24.
MississippiMiss. Code Ann. §15-1-49; Miss. Code Ann. §15-1-59Three years; for minors, the three-year limit begins once they reach the age of 18.
MissouriMo. Rev. Stat. § 516.120;
Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.046
Five years; if the victim is a minor, they have 10 years to file a claim once reaching the age of 21 or five years from the date of discovery, whichever is later.
MontanaMont. Code Ann. 27-2-204(1), Mont. Code Ann. 27-2-216Three years; if the victim is a minor, they must file a claim before reaching the age of 27 or three years after discovery.
NebraskaNeb. Rev. Stat. § 25-207Four years; minors must file a claim within four years of reaching the age of 21.
NevadaNRS § 11.190(4)(e); NRS § 11.215Two years; minors must file a claim within 10 years of reaching the age of 18 or discovery.
New HampshireN.H. Rev. Stat. § 508:4-gNo limitations on civil action for sexual assault.
New JerseyNJ S477Seven years from the date of offense or date of discovery, whichever is later; minors who experience child sexual abuse can file a claim until their 55th birthday or seven years from discovery, whichever is later.
New MexicoN.M. Code § 37-1-18; N.M. Code § 37-1-30Three years; minors have until their 24th birthday or three years from disclosing the assault to a medical provider, whichever is first.
New YorkN.Y. CVP 213-C20 years
North CarolinaN.C.G.S. § 1-52Three years
North DakotaN.D.C.C. § 28-01-25.2; N.D.C.C. § 28-01-25.1Nine years; minor victims have 21 years to begin a claim; if the assault occurred to a minor under the age of 15, the 21-year tolling period begins at age 15.
OhioORC Ann. § 2305.10(a);
ORC Ann. § 2305.111(c)
Two years; minors have 12 years from the time they reach the age of majority.
OklahomaOkla. Stat. tit. 12, § 95(2), Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 95 (6)Two years; minors have until their 45th birthday to file a claim for childhood sexual abuse.
OregonORS § 12.110; ORS § 12.117Two years; minors have until their 40th birthday or five years from the date of discovery, whichever is longer.
Pennsylvania42 Pa.C.S. § 5524; 42 Pa.C.S. § 5533Two years; minors have 37 years after reaching their 18th birthday to file a claim; if the assault occurs between the ages of 18 and 24, the victim has until their 30th birthday to file a civil lawsuit.
Rhode IslandR.I. Gen. L. § 9-1-14;
R.I. Gen. Laws § 9- 1-51
Three years; minors have 35 years from the date of the act or seven years after discovery, whichever is later.
South CarolinaS.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-555Three years from the date of discovery; minors have up to six years after reaching the age of 21 or three years from the date of discovery, whichever is later.
South DakotaS.D. C. § 15-2-14; S.D. C. § 26-10-25Three years; minors have three years from the date of the assault or three years from the date of discovery, whichever is later.
TennesseeT.C.A. § 28-1-106; T.C.A. § 28-3-104One year; minors who experience sexual assault have one year following their 18th birthday to file a claim.
TexasTex. Civ. Prac. and Rem. Code § 16.0045Five years; minors have 30 years after the date of the sexual assault to file a personal injury claim.
UtahUtah Code Ann. § 78B-2-307; Utah Code Ann. § 78B-2-308Four years; minors may file a civil action at any time.
Vermont12 V.S.A. § 512; 12 V.S.A. § 522Three years; minors may file a civil action at any time.
VirginiaVa. Code Ann. § 8.01-243Two years; minors have between 10 and 20 years to file a claim, depending on the circumstances of the assault.
WashingtonWash. Rev. Code § 4.16.080; Wash. Rev. Code § 4.16.340Three years; minors have three years after reaching the age of 18 or three years after the discovery, whichever is later.
West Virginia§55-2-12Two years; minors the must file their claim “within 18 years after reaching the age of majority, or within four years after discovery of the sexual assault or sexual abuse, whichever is longer.”
WisconsinWis. Stat. § 893.54; Wis. Stat. § 893.587Three years; minors have until the age of 35 to begin a claim.
WyomingW.S. 1-3-105Four years; minors can bring an action for eight years after reaching their 18th birthday or three years after discovery, whichever is later.

Why Do Statutes of Limitations Even Exist?

There are a few reasons statutes of limitations exist. However, given the egregious nature of sexual assault, it is debatable whether the same reasoning should apply in these cases. That is why the deadlines governing these cases tend to be more generous to give victims a better chance of having their day in court. States also recognize that technological advances, such as DNA testing, make it easier to investigate sexual assault claims, even after years have passed.  

Valid counterarguments aside, this section goes over a few justifications normally given for statutes of limitations.

Justification No. 1

First, the more time that passes after the events originally giving rise to a civil or criminal lawsuit, the more time there is for evidence to disappear or be tampered with, as well as for witness memories to fade. Filing deadlines are meant to avoid this by encouraging involved parties to file their case sooner rather than later.  

Because of the highly contested nature of most sexual assault cases, preserving evidence early on can actually be extremely advantageous for victims. Warner Law Offices, PLLC, is standing by to conduct a thorough, independent investigation of your claim and preserve as much evidence as possible to build your claim.

Justification No. 2

Second, the court systems throughout the country tend to be inundated with more cases than they can realistically handle in a timely manner. Enforcing filing deadlines helps reduce the caseloads. Otherwise, courts could be further inundated with decades-old cases. Again, however, modern science makes prosecuting older sexual assault cases much more feasible.

Justification No. 3

Third, statutes of limitations “spare” defendants from the lifelong threat of being sued or prosecuted. In cases involving just money, this reasoning may fly. However, in sexual assault cases, this is probably the least compelling justification for statutes of limitations.  

At Warner Law Offices, PLLC, we will do everything in our power to make sure justice is served on your behalf. We are here to fight for you.

Warner Law Offices, PLLC, Is Committed to Securing Justice on Your Behalf

Warner Law Offices, PLLC, is a leading West Virginia personal injury law firm serving clients throughout the state and surrounding region. Our team has extensive experience handling a wide variety of civil litigation, including cases involving sexual assault. We are here to make sure you know your full legal rights and options.  

When working with our dedicated team of attorneys, you can rest assured that we will do everything in our power to secure justice and accountability on your behalf. Contact Warner Law Offices, PLLC, to schedule your free, confidential consultation. There is no charge to have your case reviewed by one of our attorneys.

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Bobby has received many accolades throughout the years from both his peers in the legal community, as well as the media. The National Trial Lawyers association named Bobby a Top 100 Trial Lawyer and he has been selected as a Member of the Nation’s Top One Percent. Additionally, he has been named a Best Attorneys of America by Rue Ratings, which also named Warner Law Offices to its Best Law Firms of America.