Sexual assault and physical abuse compensation claims are civil cases brought in the courts in England and Wales. They are usually pursued as personal injury claims. Occasionally, claimants bring human rights, discrimination, and other cases.
All civil cases are subject to strict time limits, or “limitation periods”. This means that claimants must issue formal court proceedings in time or lose the right to claim compensation. Limitation periods/ dates vary depending on the case. They are affected by what happened and what claims you bring.
How Long Do I Have to Bring a Sexual Assault Compensation Claim?
The main time limits which apply to sexual assault and physical abuse cases are:
- personal injury (including psychiatric injury and assault & battery): three years from the date of injury
- breach of the Human Rights Act: one year less one day from the date of the causative breach
- In some cases, such as actions against the police, time limits of between less than six months and up to six years may apply. You can find out more by reading our page on time limits in actions against the police.
We can advise you on the limitation periods which may apply in your sexual abuse case when you get in touch. But don’t delay. You will want to give yourself the best chance of success by helping us to preserve crucial evidence and avoiding any potential limitation issues.
Why Courts Apply Time Limits When Bringing Sexual Abuse Claims
Limitation periods in sexual assault and abuse cases are enforced because they help make sure that cases are litigated promptly and fairly.
Courts want the parties to bring cases to trial quickly to:
- preserve vital evidence, such as images and video, social media posts,
- produce witness evidence and statements before memories fade or become distorted by time
- include other parties in litigation, including social services, the police, and others who may be responsible for acts or omissions relating to the alleged sexual abuse
- make sure that the whole claim is included and that nothing is lost due to time limits expiring.
Limitation Period Exceptions in Sexual Assault and Physical Abuse Claims
The courts take a strict view on limitation dates in most cases. But there are exceptions where they will agree to delay the start of, or extend, the limitation date to allow a claim to continue. These exceptions are most important in sexual abuse cases, where matters can come to light after the appropriate limitation period has passed.
Limitation dates vary depending on what is alleged and claimed. Because of this, the exceptions differ depending on the case.
There is no simple answer to the question, “what limitation dates apply in sexual abuse cases?”. But the basic rules in common law-based claims (such as assault & battery and false imprisonment) are set out in the Limitation Act (1980). This law allows the courts to delay the start of the limitation period if:
– the Claimant is under 18 when the facts giving rise to the claim (known as “the cause of action”) occurred. Then the Claimant has until their 21st or 24th birthday to issue proceedings, depending on the applicable limitation period.
– the Defendant deliberately concealed facts relating to the Claimant’s right of action. The limitation period starts when the Claimant found out about the concealment or could have done with “reasonable diligence”.
– the Claimant is a “protected party” when the cause of action arises. (A protected party is someone who may not be capable of pursuing litigation because of an “impairment of, or a disturbance in the functioning of his/her mind or brain”. Then the courts can delay the start of the limitation period for as long as the protected party lacks capacity to conduct legal proceedings.
– in negligence claims causing personal injury, the limitation period starts from the date of injury or death, or, if later, when the Claimant (or Personal Representative) knew that:
- The injury was significant enough to justify proceedings
- It was caused (in whole or part) by the Defendant’s act or omission, and
- The identity of the Defendant or person responsible is known.
See A v Hoare  for legal authority to argue that the date of knowledge (if later than three years) should apply.
How to Extend the Time Limits in Sexual Abuse and Assault Cases
So what do you do if the exceptions above do not apply to you? Depending on the circumstances, you might be able to extend the 3-year time limit in your sexual abuse compensation claim.
In some cases the court will consider s.33(3) of the Limitation Act 1980, and, if appropriate, grant “equitable relief”. The courts pay close attention to the prejudice suffered by both sides. Defendants often argue that the delay harms their ability to fairly defend the claim. Claimants say that refusing their application for relief effectively ends the claim.
Limitation Periods in Other UK Laws
In some cases, claimants in sexual assault cases may also argue that they have the right to compensation for other heads of claim based in legislative, as opposed to common, law. These UK Parliament-made laws have their own limitation periods which apply to everyone, even children and protected parties. Where appropriate, they also allow for extending the limitation period where it is just and equitable to do so.
What to Do if You Think You Have Missed a Limitation Date in Your Sexual Abuse and Assault Case
It is common in sexual abuse cases to miss early limitation dates. But that does not necessarily stop you from claiming compensation. We might still be able to help you claim compensation by seeking to extend the limitation date, or by claiming for other things. For example, if your sexual abuse claim involved a personal injury case and human rights claim, but you missed the human rights limitation date (one year less one day) and could not reasonably argue to extend it, you might still pursue the personal injury claim.
Our lawyers can advise you further when you get in touch.
How Do I Claim Compensation for Sexual Assault?
Contact Donoghue Solicitors to find out if we can help you claim compensation by:
- calling 08000 124 246, or
- completing the online form on this page.
Click here to read what information we need from you to consider your sexual assault claim.
We look forward to hearing from you.