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Oct 14

Extending the Statute of Limitations

How ending the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases helps victims.

On behalf of Brian S. Kabateck | Kabateck Brown Kellner, LLP

Sexual abuse survivors are pleased with the passage of a California bill that Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law that eliminates the state’s 10-year limit on filing certain rape and child sex abuse charges. The new law, SB813, will also end the time limit on older cases where the statute of limitations has not expired yet.

Advocates call the legislation a victory for rape and sexual assault victims because there’s no longer an arbitrary deadline on their ability to seek justice in a court of law. There are 17 other states that have no statute of limitation for rape charges. Colorado recently doubled the amount of time to pursue charges from 10 years to 20 years and Nevada extended its statute of limitations from four years to 20 years for victims to seek justice in a sexual assault case.

Lawmakers in California and Nevada drafted the legislation in reaction to the revelations that dozens of women claimed they were sexually assaulted more than a decade ago by comedian Bill Cosby. The accusers’ stories prompted public outrage because the statute of limitations prevented Cosby from facing prosecution. Several of his alleged victims testified at some legislative hearings about feeling traumatized from the assault and fearful that no one would believe them, which is what prevented the women from coming forward sooner.

The new law also impacts cases involving children, however, the clock for sex crimes committed against minors already doesn’t start until they are an adult. California already has a law that allows for the recovery of damages suffered as a result of childhood sexual abuse if it’s reported by the victim’s 26th birthday.

Civil Procedure Code 340.1 enables victims to sue a person or entity in civil court that had a reason to know or was on notice of any unlawful sexual misconduct by an employee, volunteer, representative or agent and failed to take reasonable steps and enact safeguards to prevent future acts of sexual abuse. However, California school districts are sometimes immune from litigation because they’re not liable for a teacher’s crimes. The districts are liable for failing to act and we’ve seen the state’s largest school district pay dearly for failing to protect its students from sexual predators.

In 2014, the Los Angeles Unified School District agreed to pay the largest settlement in its history of nearly $140 million to dozens of students of Miramonte Elementary School over the district’s handling of the sexual abuse case of former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt.

In May of 2016, LAUSD settled another sexual misconduct case for $88 million on behalf of 30 students, involving two elementary-school teachers.

While these cases made headlines, there are many other districts across the state embroiled in civil lawsuits stemming from the negligence of mandated reporters who ignore or protect predatory teachers who sexually abused students.

By example, KBK is currently handling a case against the Monson-Sultana Joint Union Elementary School District on behalf of several students sexually abused by their sixth grade teacher. David Blancas is serving a life sentence after his conviction in 2013. He repeatedly sexually abused children for several years while they attend his middle school. While Mr. Blancas preyed on these young boys, the Monson-Sultana Joint Union Elementary School District, we allege, failed to properly supervise and train its facility and staff as mandatory reporters to report suspected or actual occurrences of child abuse, as required by the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act.

Statistics are scarce when it comes to finding hard numbers that indicate a rise in sexual abuse incidents in our nation’s schools. But it appears the veil of secrecy has lifted as more victims come forward to report misconduct. As parents, students and educators become more aware of this issue, acts of abuse such as touching, kissing, grabbing clothing and forcible sexual contact will be reported and the perpetrators will be prosecuted.

Laws that empower victims to speak out and pursue justice for crimes, no matter when the crime occurred, will lead to more awareness and prevention of this wrongdoing. Exemplary of this empowerment is best demonstrated in a case KBK is prosecuting where a group of women seek to hold the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department accountable for a former deputy who sexually assaulted them. William Nulick, 44, was sentenced to five years in prison this year after pleading no-contest to two felony counts of oral copulation under the color of authority and two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery. KBK is suing the county on behalf of the victims who say Nulick assaulted them. A federal judge recently ruled the civil suits can move forward despite the county’s claim that Nulick’s assaults happened outside the two-year statute of limitations, because the victims allege Nulick continued to harass them after the abuse.

KBK represents victims of sexual abuse who pursue civil action against a perpetrator and in some cases, additional parties. While sexual assault and molestation can lead to criminal prosecution, a civil lawsuit is the only way that sexual abuse victims can recover monetary damages for the emotional and psychological harm they’ve suffered. In some circumstances, a plaintiff can bring a claim against a third party in addition to the perpetrator.

If you or a loved one has experienced sexual abuse you must learn more about your legal rights to receive compensation. Give one of our experienced personal injury attorneys at Kabateck Brown Kellner, LLP a call today to learn more about recovering damages and to explore your options. We can help you achieve the maximum compensation for the harm you or a loved one has suffered.

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