WA Supreme Court Clears Roadblock for Hearing Some Childhood Sexual Abuse Cases

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A recent ruling from the Washington state Supreme Court lowers the barriers for bringing some childhood sexual abuse cases to court.

Justices unanimously ruled that the three-year statute of limitation for these cases applies from the date of discovery of each element of the case. Seattle-based attorney Nate Roberts of the Connelly Law Offices said that, for instance, if someone in their mid-twenties suffers psychologically because of childhood abuse, they have three years to file a claim against their alleged abuser. He added that there are more situations where the Wolf decision applies.

“If they find out in their thirties, for example, that they were a ward of the state at the time of the abuse and the state knew they were being abused and didn’t intervene,” he said, “then they would have three years from the date they acquire that knowledge in which to file a lawsuit against the state.”

Roberts said this makes more sense than applying the three-year statute of limitation to the date of the abuse.

Washington state lawmakers are considering eliminating the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases completely. Roberts said other states have already done this.

“The insidious thing about sexual abuse and physical abuse of children is that the kids don’t necessarily understand the scope or degree of harm sometimes ever, but often until much later in life,” he said, “and I think a simpler, more equitable rule would be to say that if you’re the victim of childhood abuse, you can bring the lawsuit whenever you’re ready to do so.”

House Bill 1618 was introduced in the Legislature this year and passed in the House but died in the Senate. It will be up for consideration again in 2024.

Featured photo: A decision from the Washington Supreme Court ensures people can bring childhood sexual abuse cases within three years of evidence discovery. (Cagkan/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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