Child sexual abuse is a crime in the State of Texas, whether it happened a few hours ago or many years in the past. However, your legal right to sue in civil court for compensation related to those injuries is impacted by the state’s lawsuit-filing deadline, known as the statute of limitations.
While it may seem unfair to victims, reasonable limits are necessary to the accused who may find it impossible to gather sufficient evidence, recall specific facts, or mount a defense. Failure to file on-time results in judges summarily dismissing most cases. So, you can feasibly sue the Catholic Church for sexual abuse committed by priests, nuns, laypersons, or volunteers– though the clock starts ticking on the victim’s 18th birthday. Speaking with a church sexual abuse lawyer from Crowe Arnold & Majors, LLP can help you explore your legal options.
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A New Law Makes It Easier to Sue the Catholic Church for Sexual Abuse in Texas
A 2019 law has made it easier for people in Texas to sue the Catholic Church for sexual abuse that happened long ago. As of September 1, HB3809 changed the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit from 15 to 30 years from the date the victim turns 18.
When Can You Sue the Catholic Church in Texas for Sexual Abuse?
- If you were over age 33 as of September 1, 2019 – Your statute of limitations for a civil case has expired. The new law is not retroactive. You may still pursue a criminal case by filing a police report and appealing to the District Attorney’s office, as there is no criminal statute of limitations for the sexual assault of a child or indecency with a minor.
- If you were less than 33 as of September 1, 2019 – If the old statute of limitations has not yet expired on your case, you will be granted a period of 30 years from your 18th birthday (or age 48) to sue for civil damages. In this case, you would contact a caring, experienced personal injury attorney specializing in childhood sexual abuse cases like those at Crowe Arnold & Majors, LLP.
However, there is hope for survivors. In states like Arizona, California, New Jersey, and New York, “lookback windows” have been passed. This temporarily abolishes the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases, which allows victims of church abuse the opportunity to come forward. The laws are always changing, so it is a good idea to contact us for a free consultation before counting yourself out.
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Who Is Liable for Child Sexual Abuse in Texas?
A number of individuals and entities can be named in a suit after a child is harmed by a member of the church:
- A living or deceased clergy member, priest, nun, minister, deacon, or lay volunteer
- A bishop or cardinal whose job it was to oversee the clergy and “shepherd the flock”
- The local diocese in charge of supervising the church leadership and reporting suspected abuse
Some attempts have been made to hold the Vatican responsible for sexual abuse, but a Texas judge ruled in 2005 that the Pope himself was “immune from litigation for conspiracy as a head of state.” More recently, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman decided the Vatican could be sued– which was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in 2012. Lawsuits filed in 2019 are pending.
How Do You Sue A Church?
Most individual lawsuits are first filed in state court. The first person you contact should be a trustworthy sexual abuse victim lawyer who can guide you through the process. At Crowe Arnold & Majors, LLP, we work on a contingency basis, meaning that survivors pay nothing upfront or out-of-pocket to pursue their cases; in fact, no legal fees are due until we win your case.
Your legal advocate will conduct a thorough investigation, conduct interviews, subpoena documents, submit evidence, pay the court fees, and be sure the necessary paperwork gets filed. Ultimately, you will decide whether to accept a settlement or go to trial.
Damages can be sought for anxiety, depression, disassociation, eating disorders, emotional trauma, flashbacks, PTSD, sleeping disorders, self-mutilation, sexual dysfunction, STDs, substance abuse, and suicide attempts. Your legal team must demonstrate that the diocese was negligent in hiring, supervising, and retaining or dismissing priests. They must also prove that your story is “more likely than not” to have happened. It takes an experienced legal team to break the code of secrecy surrounding church documents.
If there are multiple victims, the cases are sometimes grouped into a class-action lawsuit against the diocese in federal court. These payouts can involve rather large sums. According to Bishop Accountability, the Diocese of Dallas, Texas paid 48 victims of 15 priests and one deacon $39.1 million in the late nineties.
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Here at Crowe Arnold & Majors, we are unafraid to take on the challenging cases. We work with a team of expert investigators and witnesses who can testify on your behalf.
Most importantly, we take a compassionate and caring approach to legal representation in this difficult area. Consultations with a Dallas personal injury attorney are confidential, under no-obligation, and always free. If you’re ready to talk, we’re ready to listen– and help.<!