Only 29% of child sexual abuse reports result in criminal charges being filed. As a result, most states have enacted civil statutes of limitations to allow survivors to file claims both against abusers and also those who owed them a duty of care and knew or should have known about the abuse. In 2015 the Georgia legislature passed the Hidden Predator Act (HPA) to amend the state’s civil statute of limitations. Under the HPA, survivors of child sexual abuse that occurred prior to July 1, 2015 were given a two-year retroactive window under which to file claims against their abusers. Notably, the open window excluded entities from liability. After the two-year window closed on June 30, 2017, survivors whose abuse occurred prior to July 1, 2015 could only sue until their twenty-third birthday. For those whose abuse occurred after July 1, 2015, the HPA created a delayed-discovery provision, allowing survivors over the age of twenty-three to file claims within two years of making the connection that the abuse caused their injuries.
The Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic (“CEASE”) filed six claims under the open window provision of the HPA. Four of those claims have been successfully settled, one was decided favorably for the victim at a bench trial, and one was voluntarily dismissed by the client. Through its representation of survivors, CEASE found that even in cases where the abuse occurred thirty years prior to the date of filing, claims could be successful under Georgia law and that mediation could be a powerful healing tool for survivors.
However, despite the passage of the HPA, CEASE observed several barriers for survivors to the civil justice system in Georgia. While the HPA, in theory, provided civil relief for survivors, in practice, the HPA did little to extend the statute of limitations or provide retroactive access to the civil justice system. Fewer than fifteen civil claims were filed under the retroactive window, six of which were filed by CEASE. Of the nearly 1,000,000 survivors of child sexual abuse in the state of Georgia, less than 0.000015% were able to file civil claims under the open window. Furthermore, because the delayed-discovery provision only applies to acts of child sexual abuse occurring on or after July 1, 2015 and where the victim is over the age of twenty-three, no delayed-discovery cases will be seen in Georgia courts for decades.
Emma Hetherington; Jean Mangan; Chase Lyndale; Michael Nunnally; and Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic, University of Georgia School of Law,
Statute of Limitations for Child Sexual Abuse Civil Lawsuits in Georgia
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/fac_artchop/1287