A statute of limitation (“SOL”) is a legal deadline for pressing criminal charges or filing civil claims. Once an SOL has expired, a claim or charge cannot be brought. The length of time during which different actions can be brought varies from state to state. There is no SOL for certain crimes, so actions can be brought at any time. An SOL for a civil lawsuit about a contract may be different from a lawsuit about a personal injury and both may be of varying durations between different states. SOLs can begin running at different times.
Many SOLs begin to run at the time of an offense. An SOL can be “tolled”, or suspended, and won’t begin running until a triggering event. In cases of childhood sexual abuse, an SOL will often be tolled until a minor turns 18 (i.e. majority tolling). Certain discoveries, such as a realization that a person’s suffering is the result of childhood sexual abuse, can toll an SOL (i.e. discovery tolling). Also, DNA evidence newly connecting a perpetrator to a crime can sometimes be used to prosecute a criminal defendant even after the SOL has already expired.
Some states have passed laws to increase access to justice for victims of childhood sexual abuse by temporarily reviving time-barred civil claims, allowing victims to recover against perpetrators and responsible institutions.
Child Sex Abuse Statutes of Limitation and Related Laws
Current Civil SOL
In Tennessee, the civil SOL for child sex abuse claims is capped at age 19 (age of majority, 18, plus 1 year). There is also a discovery rule, which allows victims up to 3 years to file a claim after discovering an injury caused by the abuse.
SOL vs. perp: +1 year from majority = Age 19
SOL vs. employer: +1 year from majority = Age 19
Majority Tolling: Age 18
Discovery Tolling: + 3 years
Tennessee State Law Provides:
(b) Notwithstanding § 28-3-104, a civil action for an injury or illness based on child sexual abuse that occurred when the injured person was a minor, but was not discovered at the time of the abuse, shall be brought within three (3) years from the time of discovery of the abuse by the injured person
(c) A person bringing an action under this section need not establish or prove:
(1) Which act in a series of continuing child sexual abuse incidents by the alleged perpetrator caused the injury or illness complained of, but may compute the date of discovery from the date of discovery of the last act by the same alleged perpetrator which is part of a common scheme or pattern of child sexual abuse; or
(2) That the injured person psychologically repressed the memory of the facts upon which the claim is predicated.(br)
(d) In an action brought under this section, the knowledge of a parent or guardian shall not be imputed to a minor.
(e) Notwithstanding subsection (b), in no event shall an action under this section be brought against the alleged perpetrator of the child sexual abuse or against the estate of such alleged perpetrator after the perpetrator’s death later than twenty-five (25) years from the date the child becomes eighteen (18) years of age. If the action is brought more than one (1) year from the date the injured person attains the age of majority, the injured person must offer admissible and credible evidence corroborating the claim of abuse by the alleged perpetrator.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-116
Majority, yes 18.
If the person entitled to commence an action is, at the time the cause of action accrued, either under eighteen (18) years of age, or adjudicated incompetent, such person, or such person's representatives and privies, as the case may be, may commence the action, after legal rights are restored, within the time of limitation for the particular cause of action, unless it exceeds three (3) years, and in that case within three (3) years from restoration of legal rights.
Tenn. Code. Ann. § 28-1-106(a)
Under Tennessee law, the discovery rule requires that “the statue of limitations begins to run when the injury occurs or when the plaintiff discovers or should have discovered that he or she has a right of action.” Doe v. Coffee County Bd. of Educ., 852 S.W.2d 899, 904 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992) (emphasis added). Thus, the discovery rule tolls the statute when the plaintiff is without means reasonably necessary to discover his claim. However, the discovery rule will toll the statute only when “the plaintiff has no knowledge at all that a wrong has occurred.” Id. Consequently, when a plaintiff knows he is injured and who caused his injury, as a matter of law, he has discovered his cause of action, and its statute of limitations begins to run. Id.
C.S. v. Diocese of Nashville, No. M2007-02076-COA-R3-CV, 2008 Tenn. App. LEXIS 582, *9, 2008 WL 4426891 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 30, 2008)
Under the current discovery rule, a cause of action accrues and the statute of limitations begins to run not only when the plaintiff has actual knowledge of a claim, but also when the plaintiff has actual knowledge of “facts sufficient to put a reasonable person on notice that he [or she] has suffered an injury as a result of wrongful conduct.” Carvell v. Bottoms, 900 S.W.2d 23, 29 (Tenn. 1995) (quoting Roe v. Jefferson, 875 S.W.2d 653, 657 (Tenn. 1994)). This latter circumstance is variously referred to as “constructive notice”14 or “inquiry notice.”15 Quoting the Iowa Supreme Court, we have explained that inquiry notice “charges a plaintiff with knowledge of those facts that a reasonable investigation would have disclosed. . . . [O]nce a plaintiff gains information sufficient to alert a reasonable person of the need to investigate ‘the injury,’ the limitation period begins to run.” Sherrill v. Souder, 325 S.W.3d at 593 n.7 (quoting Rathje v. Mercy Hosp., 745 N.W.2d 443, 461 (Iowa 2008)); see also Diamond v. Davis, 680 A.2d 364, 372 (D.C. 1996) (defining inquiry notice as the “notice which a plaintiff would have possessed after due investigation.
Redwing v. Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Memphis, 363 S.W.3d 436, 459, 2012 Tenn. LEXIS 143, 54-55 (Tenn. 2012)
Current Criminal SOL
In Tennessee, the criminal SOL for most sexual offenses against minors is capped at age 43 (age of majority, 18, plus 25 years).
No later than 25 years after the victim’s 18th birthday for most sexual offenses against minors.
No later than 15 years after the victim’s 18th birthday for violations on or after 7/1/2013 for trafficking a person for a commercial sex act or solicitation of a minor to observe sexual conduct.
No later than 10 years after the victim’s 18th birthday for violations on or after 7/1/2013 for patronizing prostitution or promoting prostitution
None for felonies carrying death penalty or life imprisonment for crimes committed since 1989. Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-2-101 (a). +25 years from majority for most CSA-related crimes committed on or after June 20, 2006. Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-2-101 (h).
For most crimes committed between July 1, 1997 and June 19, 2006, the latter of either the victim’s 21st birthday or +15 years from commission for a Class A felony, +8 years from commission for a Class B felony, +4 years from commission for class C and D felonies. Unless punishable by life imprisonment or death, then None.
For most crimes committed between November 1, 1989 and June 30, 1997 the latter of the date victim attains majority or +4 years from commission of crime. Unless punishable by life imprisonment or death, then None.
Tennessee State Law Provides:
(a) A person may be prosecuted, tried and punished for an offense punishable with death or by imprisonment in the penitentiary during life, at any time after the offense is committed.
(b) Prosecution for a felony offense shall begin within:
(1) Fifteen (15) years for a Class A felony;
(2) Eight (8) years for a Class B felony;
(3) Four (4) years for a Class C or Class D felony; and
(4) Two (2) years for a Class E felony.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-2-101
Age of Majority / Age of Consent / Age of Marriage
Age of Majority: 18. See, Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-106.
Age of Consent: 18. See, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-506.
Age of Marriage with Parental Consent: 16 (under 16 with judicial consent).
Age of Marriage without Parental Consent: 18.
See, Tenn. Code. Ann. §§ 36-3-105, 36-3-106, 36-3-107.
Medical Neglect Statute
CIVIL MEDICAL NEGLECT STATUTE
There is no religious exemption to civil liability for parents failing to provide medical care based on faith.
Tennessee Civil Statute:
CRIMINAL MEDICAL NEGLECT STATUTE
There is no religious exemption to criminal liability for parents failing to provide medical care based on faith.
Tennessee Criminal Statute:
Current DNA Provision
*As of December 2018
A prosecution is also commenced, within the meaning of this chapter, by finding an indictment or presentment or the issuing of a warrant identifying the offender by a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) profile.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-2-104 (West)
Religous Liberty Statute
Religious liberty statute that could put children at risk
Current Law: TENN. CODE ANN. § 4-1-407 (2009)
Enacted: July 1, 2009
4-1-407. PRESERVATION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. (a) As used in this section, unless the context otherwise requires:
(1) “Demonstrates” means meets the burdens of going forward with the evidence and of persuasion under the standard of clear and convincing evidence; (2) “Exercise of religion” means the exercise of religion under article I, § 3 of the Constitution of Tennessee and the first amendment to the United States Constitution; (3) “Fraudulent claim” means a claim that is dishonest in fact or that is made principally for a patently improper purpose, such as to harass the opposing party; (4) “Frivolous claim” means a claim that completely lacks merit under existing law and cannot be supported by a good faith argument for the extension, modification or reversal of existing law or the establishment of new law; (5) “Government entity” means any branch, department, agency, commission or instrumentality of state government, any official or other person acting under color of state law or any political subdivision of the state; (6) “Prevails” means to obtain “prevailing party” status as defined by courts construing the federal Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Awards Act of 1976, codified in 42 U.S.C. § 1988; and (7) “Substantially burden” means to inhibit or curtail religiously motivated practice. (b) Except as provided in subsection (c), no government entity shall substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.
(c) No government entity shall substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion unless it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is:
(1) Essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and (2) The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest. (d) (1) Nothing in this section shall be construed to:
(A) Authorize any government entity to burden any religious belief; or (B) Affect, interpret or in any way address those portions of article I, § 3 of the Constitution of Tennessee and the first amendment to the United States Constitution that prohibit laws respecting the establishment of religion. (2) Nothing in this section shall create or preclude a right of any religious organization to receive funding or other assistance from a government or of any person to receive government funding for a religious activity. (e) A person whose religious exercise has been burdened by government in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in any judicial or administrative proceeding and may obtain such declaratory relief, monetary damages as may properly be awarded by a court of competent jurisdiction, or both declaratory relief and monetary damages. A person who prevails in any proceeding to enforce this section against a government entity may recover the person’s reasonable costs and attorney’s fees. Standing to assert a claim or defense under this section shall be governed by general rules of law that establish standing. This subsection (e) relating to attorney’s fees shall not apply to criminal prosecutions.
(f) Any person found by a court with jurisdiction over the action to have abused the protections of this section by filing a frivolous or fraudulent claim may be assessed the government entity’s court costs, if any, and may be enjoined from filing further claims under this section without leave of court.
The information provided is solely for informational purposes and is not legal advice. To determine the SOL in a particular case, contact a lawyer in the state.