Attorneys fighting for victims of decades-old child sexual abuse, the March 2023 Third District Court of Appeals’ ruling in Doe v. Archdiocese of Miami, Inc. represented a key victory for abuse survivors. The appellate panel gave the green light to a plaintiff pursuing a civil lawsuit against the Catholic church for liability of a priest’s alleged sexual abuse – despite the passage of more than 20 years. However, the archdiocese is now asking for the Florida Supreme Court to intervene and have the case dismissed, calling it “a case of exceptional importance for employers.”
Plaintiff in the case is a man who came forward about the sexual abuse he suffered on dozens of occasions from the time he was 7 until he was 9 by a priest. The complaint – which is against the church and does not name the priest – alleges the archdiocese was aware that the priest in question had an extensive history of child sexual abuse dating back to at least the late 1960s. The church allegedly not only concealed prior allegations, but continued to place this priest in positions where he still had access to children. Nothing was done to prevent further abuse, the complaint alleges.
The 3rd DCA’s ruling held that the alleged victim could not sue the church for negligence because there is a 4-year statute of limitations on negligence claims, per F.S. 95.11(9). (Or at least, there was. A recent change to the law has shortened that window down to just 2 years.) However, the court did reverse the circuit court’s dismissal of a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against the church, per F.S. 95.11(7), which references intentional tort claims based on abuse. That provision of the law was passed in 2010 law and lifted certain statute of limitation restrictions on cases that involve sexual battery of victims younger than 16. Rather than a hardline 4-year statute of limitations, claims brought forth on this basis may commence whichever of the following occurs latest:
- Within 7 years after the victim reaches the age of majority OR
- Within 4 years after the injured person leaves the dependency of the abuser OR
- Within 4 years of discovering both the injury and causal relationship between the injury of abuse.
Finding that the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress was rooted in the intentional tort of abuse, the 3rd DCA applied this statute, and concluded the plaintiff’s intentional tort claim survived until 2017, which was 7 years after he turned 18.
Furthermore, the court rejected the Catholic church’s argument that such claims could be only made against an institution, rather than an individual.
As our West Palm Beach sexual abuse lawyers can explain, most civil sexual abuse claims are against institutions – employers, schools, property owners, sports organizations, and churches.
Why? Continue reading