Most state and federal jurisdiction have time limits, known as statutes of limitations, within which a crime victim must file a civil lawsuit or else the claim is forever barred and will be dismissed as untimely. But if you are or were a servicemember, your should know about an important statute that protects your rights.
In the case of child sexual abuse, numerous states have begun expanding the statute of limitations for such claims in recognition that the nature of the crime and the devastating effects of child sexual abuse often cause psychological and emotional injuries which render an abuse victim unable or unwilling to come forward with a civil claim at an earlier date. Nevertheless, we often encounter child sex abuse victims from various jurisdictions who contact our office after the expiration of the statute of limitations on their civil claims.
There is one little-used federal statute that may be of use to crime victims to avoid the effect of the statute of limitations deadline. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 App. U.S.C. Section 526(a) provides that the statute of limitations for a civil lawsuit to be brought by any current or former servicemember is tolled for the entire length of a servicemember’s military service. The federal statute provides as follows:
(a) Tolling of statutes of limitation during military service. The period of a servicemember’s military service may not be included in computing any period limited by law, regulation, or order for the bringing of any action or proceeding in a court, or in any board, bureau, commission, department, or other agency of a State (or political subdivision of a State) or the United States by or against the servicemember or the servicemember’s heirs, executors, administrators, or assigns.
The definitions section of the statute clarifies that “military service” means active duty or any period during which a servicemember is absent from duty on account of sickness, wounds, leave or other lawful cause. See Section 511 (2)(A). The phrase “period of military service” means the period beginning on the date of which a servicemember enters military service and ending on the date on which the servicememeber is released from military service. Perhaps most importantly, the statute encompasses claims brought in any state or federal court. Section 512(a).
In addition, the statute applies to claims which arose both before and during the period of military service. Although this statute is often cited to prevent default judgments being entered against servicemembers, it is equally applicable when the servicemember is the victim of a crime. Therefore, even if you were sexually abused as a child decades ago, your claim may not be barred by the statute of limitations due to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act if you were on duty in the military for a lengthy period of time.
Unfortunately, this statute is unknown by many members of our military and even many attorneys. If you were ever in the active duty in the military and have been the victim of a crime that for which you did not previously seek civil relief, do not assume that the statute of limitations expired. You should instead confer with an experienced attorney who can evaluate whether the time you spent in the military will operate to toll the statute of limitations on your claim.
Our attorneys are experienced in handling lawsuits on behalf of persons who serve in the United State military and we have litigated the issue of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to successfully defeat a statute of limitations defense in sexual abuse case. If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual abuse and served in the military, please contact our law firm at 954-641-2100 or send an e-mail to sexual abuse attorney Adam Horowitz at [email protected]