In New Jersey, child victims of sexual abuse by an adult may bring a civil action for damages for injury or illness based on that sexual abuse at the time of reasonable discovery of the injury and its causal relationship to the act of sexual abuse; within two years after its reasonable discovery. [The Child Sexual Abuse Act (Act), N.J.S.A. 2A:61B–1, enacted in 1992].
Normally, a victim must bring their civil action for damages within two years of the incident that caused the damage. This act allows the court to find that the two-year statute of limitations does not apply in a case, because of the plaintiff’s mental state, duress by the defendant, or any other equitable grounds. Duress can be compulsion by force, coercion, or constraint. Equitable grounds for recovery are situations where considering all the facts, the court believes it to be fair to allow someone to recover damages in a court case.
The court conducts a hearing, where it hears all credible evidence, and is not limited by the Rules of Evidence. The court must determine, based on the totality of the circumstances, when the injured party in fact discovered, or when a reasonable person subjected to child sexual abuse should have discovered, that the claimed injury was causally related to the asserted child abuse by the defendant. This is the accrual date.
If, using that standard, the court determines that the plaintiff failed to file the complaint within two years after the accrual, the plaintiff may nonetheless be entitled to bring an action despite the statute of limitations. This test is subjective and based on proof of the plaintiff’s mental state, duress by the defendant, or any other equitable grounds. For example, a plaintiff may prove that although he realized that the sexual abuse caused him to suffer a psychological injury, due to the severity of that injury he was incapable of filing the complaint within two years after the discovery of the connection between the abuse and the injury.
This Act is remedial legislation, which recognizes that child sexual abuse may cause psychological injury that the victim does not connect to the abuse until years after it occurs. The plain words of the Act identify two events that must occur before a cause of action may accrue: the “reasonable discovery” of both (1) the existence of the injury and (2) the causal relationship of that injury to the acts of sexual abuse. This two-pronged approach was established because of the unique nature of sexual abuse, which may only be discovered by an adult victim after years of repression.
If you would like to speak to an attorney at our office about your particular facts and circumstances or have any questions you would like to discuss about your case and if you may still bring a civil action, you may call our office to talk about these issues free of charge. You may speak with one of many experienced trial attorneys at our firm, Williams Cedar, LLC, with offices in Philadelphia PA and Haddonfield NJ. Call us today at 856-470-9777 or 215-557-0099 or submit an online inquiry.