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Time limits for abuse claims.

View profile for Kim Daniells
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It is common for those who have experienced abuse in the past to ask questions about the time limits for bringing a claim.

The time limit for a civil court action in respect of personal injuries is governed by statute and is often expressed as three years but this is a simplification. There are important exceptions and whilst early advice and action is always a good idea, many claims are brought years, and even decades after abuse occurs.

Some time limits may differ, for example, claims made to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) by adults must generally be made within 2 years but in the case of historic abuse the CICA may make exceptions.

In claims brought for children the relevant time limits do not start to run until the child reaches the age of 18 so a child may be able to bring a claim when they reach adulthood even if the abuse occurred when they were very young.

The situation can be complex for individuals who suffered abuse as children but who do not feel able to seek assistance or report the matter until perhaps middle age. Consideration must be given to the effects that the abuse had on the child, throughout their adolescent years and adult life.

Here the Civil Court may take into consideration various factors which may account for the claim being brought out of time such as, the length of, and the reasons for, the delay on behalf of the Claimant, and the extent to which the evidence is, or is likely to be less cogent than if the action had been brought within the usual time limit.

In some cases claimants may feel able to report abuse to the police long before they feel able to seek compensation for themselves. This can pose difficulties for CICA claims but it is not automatically a reason for the claim to fail.

In these cases it is critical for any legal representative to obtain very detailed information from the claimant. This can then be followed up with expert medical evidence. In many cases we have been able to obtain the specialist evidence necessary to establish that the claimant was not able to bring the claim any earlier because of the effects of the abuse.

Statistics from Rape Crisis in England and Wales between 2016 a 2017, indicated that approximately 90% of victims of rape knew the perpetrator prior to the offence. Statistics also show that more historic abuse claims are being brought, with 42% of their adult service users being adult survivors of child sexual abuse. It is hardly surprising that these victims fear reporting their experiences, and perhaps avoid doing so for many years.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales in the year ending 2016 suggested that the proportions of adults reporting experiences of abuse during childhood tended to increase with age. For example, adults aged between 16 - 24 and 25 - 34 reported lower levels of any sexual assault (3% and 5%) than those aged 45 - 54 and 55 - 59 (both 9%). The recent press coverage of serial and historic abusers has helped to foster an environment in which such matters can be discussed openly.

It is tragic that so many individuals have spent decades living with the distressing recollections of abuse.  It is vital that victims of abuse, old and young, seek specialist advice so that they are able to explain their circumstances. It is only right that those individuals, after years of silence, can now seek the help, support and compensation they need and deserve.