When advising on the time limits for a civil compensation claim the starting point is always the same. It is often difficult to give clear guidance as much depends on the facts of each case and the individual circumstances. However there are some general points that can be considered to help understand this often complex area of law.
At this time all cases involving an element of personal injury are considered against the provisions of the Limitation Act 1980. This establishes the basic time limits for all personal injury claims and that includes cases involving allegations of sexual abuse.
The basic rules are harsh but should only be seen as a starting point as the law gives a Court the opportunity to ignore the basis rules in certain circumstances. Broadly speaking a person has a period of 3 years from the date of an event to bring a claim to Court. This means starting formal court proceedings and it should be stressed that simply informing a potential defendant or speaking to a solicitor will not be enough on its own. If a person is under the age of 18 at the time of the relevant event then the time limits start to run from their 18th birthday.
In many cases, particularly those involving sexual abuse, these rules may prevent a case going ahead but it is accepted that there are often very good reasons why a person may not be able to come forward at earlier point in time. These reasons have to be considered in every case. For a Court to allow a case to proceed out of time it has to consider the effect this will have on both a Claimant and Defendant. The Court has to consider whether it is possible on the evidence available for there to be a fair trial of the issues. The reasons will vary from case to case but may, for example, take into account the effects of the abuse on the claimant, the availability of documents/records, the availability of witnesses, whether there have been criminal prosecutions of the abusers, the length of time that has passed and any other reasons for the delay.
Every case is different and for that reason it would always be wise to take legal advice from a dedicated child abuse solicitor as soon as possible. Make sure that the issues are looked at properly so that the right advice can be given. And don’t assume it is too late to do anything about your particular circumstances.