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Two years ago, Curtis Wehmeyer, a priest in Minnesota, was convicted of criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography. For years, priests allegedly molested children without repercussion because church leadership ignored complaints from victims.
Last Friday, Ramsey County prosecutor John J. Choi announced criminal charges against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for alleged mishandling of complaints of sexual abuse by priests.
Additionally, Mr. Choi filed a civil petition against the archdiocese as well.
Choi filed six charges against the archdiocese for failing to protect children. More specifically, Minnesota's law requires that clergy members who know of physical or sexual abuse of children must report the abuse to the local welfare agency, police, of county sheriff.
The Archdiocese faces a maximum fine of $3,000 for each charge.
The Civil Lawsuits and the Child Victims Act
Even if the archdiocese must pay $18,000 in fines, the criminal charges are not as significant as all of the civil cases brought against the archdiocese and priests since Minnesota passed the Child Victims Act two years ago.
Under the state's old Delayed Discovery Statute, victims of sexual abuse had six years after the victim knew or should have known about an injury caused by sexual abuse to file a civil suit. This discovery rule was necessary because victims often do not realize until years later that they had been hurt by sexual abuse.
However, in 1995, the Minnesota Supreme Court mandated that childhood sexual abuse (CSA) victims must file any civil lawsuits within six years of becoming an adult at 18 years of age.
Child Victims Act
Under the Child Victims Act, CSA victims gained much more time to sue.
Adult victims still only have six years after a sexual abuse injury to file a lawsuit. However, if the victim was younger than 18 years old at the time of the attack, there is no statute of limitations for suing. Child victims can bring a case at any time.
For victims who were no longer able to sue under the Delayed Discovery Statute at the time the Child Victim Act started now have a three-year window of opportunity to bring a civil claim. Victims whose claims were previously barred by the statute of limitations now have until May 24, 2016 to sue.
If you've been abused as a child but could not sue because of the old statute of limitations, consult with an experienced litigation attorney to see if you can file a lawsuit now.