Sexual Assault Lawsuit From 1970s Incident Raises Florida Time Limit Questions

A woman filed a sexual assault lawsuit against singer Steven Tyler of Aerosmith for an alleged incident that occurred “approximately” around 1975 in New York. She’s the second woman to sue Tyler for sexual abuse that occurred nearly 50 years ago, though the other case was filed in California and involved abuse that reportedly went on for some time. sad blond woman dressed in black sitting in a corner with arms folded. attorneys for the sexually abused help those victimized as children seek justice as adults

As attorneys for the sexually abused in Florida, we can say with fair confidence – at least as of this writing – that such cases, all other things equal, likely would not get much traction in the Sunshine State. That is because, as it stands, our state statute of limitations on sexual abuse civil cases is much shorter.

That’s not to say this couldn’t change.

That’s what happened in New York last year, when lawmakers passed the New York State Adult Survivors Act, which temporarily eliminated the statute of limitations on civil sexual assault claims involving adult victims until Nov. 24, 2023 (referred to as a one-year lookback period). This was after the passage of the 2019 Child Victims Act in the same state that provided a one-year lookback window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to pursue civil litigation that would otherwise be time-barred.

The limit is different from state-to-state.

California recently just eliminated its statute of limitations for childhood sexual assault for civil actions that arise on or after Jan. 1, 2024. Civil sexual assault claims under existing law bar filing after the survivor’s 40th birthday OR 22 years after the claimant attains the age of majority OR within 5 years of discovering the experience.

In Florida, as it stands today, survivors of sexual assault generally face a 4-year statute of limitations on civil claims for negligence that opened the door to the abuse. Examples of defendants in these cases would be schools, churches, athletic clubs, etc. If the abuse was an ongoing thing, the clock on that statute of limitations doesn’t start until the last incident. There’s also a 4-year window to file an intentional tort claim against your abuser/attacker for sexual assault.

This window is a lot shorter than the statute of limitations for criminal sexual assault cases, but there can be exceptions depending on the circumstances. That’s why we always encourage survivors to at least have a conversation with our South Florida child sexual abuse attorneys because we can provide insight on the statute of limitations as it pertains directly to your case.

In 2020, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the state’s stringent statute of limitations on civil sexual assault cases in the matter of  R.R. v. New Life Community Church of CMA. That was a case filed by two adults who alleged their childhood church failed to protect them from being abused by a church employee when they were kids.

Both were 4 when the abuse first started. For one girl, it went on for 8 years, starting in the mid-90s. She didn’t tell her parents until she was an adult. For the other, the abuse happened once in the mid-2000s, and she told her parents within weeks. The only apparent consequence, however, was that the victim’s father made an angry phone call to the parents of the church employee, also church members with whom he lived. He was put on the phone and forced him to apologize to the 4-year-old. Nothing more appears to have been done at the time, according to court records.

Years later, that same church worker would plead guilty to unrelated federal child pornography charges.

The Florida sexual abuse lawsuit against the church and his parents alleged that despite awareness of the worker’s offenses, he was never reported to police – or even removed from working with children at the church. Nor did the church or the other adults involve take steps to warn others.

However, both the trial and appellate courts dismissed the claims for being time-barred outside that four-year time window. Plaintiffs argued that there is a delayed discovery rule in limited circumstances for claims involving childhood sexual abuse. F.S. 95.11 allows that intentional torts based on sexual abuse can be filed at any time:

  • Within 7 years of the survivor reaching the age of majority.
  • Within 4 years after the survivor leaves the dependency of the abuser.
  • Within 4 years of the discovery by the plaintiff both of the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and abuse, whichever occurs later.

Another section of that same statute holds that civil actions pertaining to sexual battery victims who were under 16 can be commenced against their abuser at any time – except one that would have been time-barred on/before July 1, 2010.

However, those cases only pertain to claims directly against the abuser. As a child sexual abuse attorney can explain, most civil cases are against third-parties who failed to protect the minor. Civil tort claims directly against the abuser are typically only worth pursuing if that individual actually has assets worth pursuing. This is why we more commonly civil sexual abuse cases filed against defendants who are rich and famous. It’s not that they’re the only ones abusing people or that you can’t win against a defendant with few assets. The problem is there’s no insurance coverage for intentional wrongdoing like sexual abuse. So if the defendant has no assets to satisfy the judgment, it’s rarely worth the time and energy. More often, it’s beneficial to pursue accountability from third parties who failed to act, failed to warn, failed to protect.

If you have been a victim of sexual abuse in Florida, we can help review your legal options and next steps on your journey of accountability and justice.

Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.

Additional Resources:

Steven Tyler Sued for Sexual Assault by Former Teen Model, Nov. 2, 2023, The Daily Beast

More Blog Entries:

Types of Damages in Florida Sexual Assault Lawsuit Settlement, Oct. 2, 2023, Florida Attorneys for the Sexually Abused Blog

Contact Information