California Sex Abuse Law and Statute of Limitations

Sex abuse lawsuits in California have made headlines for decades, with victims coming forward to seek justice against institutions and individuals who have harmed them. From the Catholic Church to public schools, universities, and the entertainment industry, sex abuse allegations have rocked California, prompting changes in California laws and regulations to prevent and address such abuse.

This article explores sex abuse lawsuits in California, examines how these claims work, and, importantly for victims, how settlement amounts are calculated. We also discuss the laws and regulations surrounding sex abuse in California and the steps being taken to address this pervasive issue.


September 26, 2023: The San Francisco Catholic Archdiocese will likely file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This dollars and cents strategy aims to enable the Archdiocese to continue its operations while efficiently addressing the numerous legal cases collectively rather than handling them individually.

Changes in legislation largely triggered the surge in sex abuse lawsuits in California we talk about below, notably the law that took away the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims against non-profit organizations.

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization process would bring all parties together under the bankruptcy court’s supervision, hopefully resulting in a quicker resolution for survivors and providing them with fair settlement payouts.

Will that happen? We will see. Bankruptcy is usually a path for defendants to avoid some of their responsibility.

September 20, 2023:  A woman has filed a civil lawsuit in California state court against Bill Cosby and his former talent agency, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment LLC (WME). As so many women have, she accuses Cosby of sexually assaulting her. The lawsuit asserts claims of battery and sexual assault under California’s Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act (a law our clergy abuse lawyers explain below), as well as negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

September 13, 2023: California’s legislature recently passed two significant bills that focus on the rights of survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination.

One of these, Assembly Bill 933, seeks to enhance the free speech protections for survivors, allowing them to discuss their experiences without fear of legal retaliation.

The legislation finds its roots in the Me Too movement, spurred by a lawsuit involving a former lawmaker. AB 933 aims to combat such legal bullying by making it more challenging for aggressors to weaponize lawsuits. The bill excludes explicitly baseless claims, which begs the question of how we will determine what a baseless claim is regarding sex abuse allegations.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 365 is another piece of legislation poised for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature. This bill targets the practice of businesses and employers who delay legal proceedings through frivolous appeals, mainly when there’s a motion to compel arbitration. This new California sexual assault law seems more symbolic – not that that is necessarily a bad thing – than practical.

California Sex Abuse Statute of Limitations

In California, the statute of limitations for civil claims related to childhood sexual abuse is complex and has changed over time. In 2019, California passed a new law (AB 218) that extended the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse civil claims. The law allows victims to file lawsuits until they are 40 years old or within five years of discovering that the abuse caused them psychological injury, even if they are older than 40. The law previously had a cutoff at age 26.

First Window in 2003

However, in 2002, the Boston Globe published its investigation into sexual abuse by Catholic priests, which sparked national attention and increased awareness of childhood sexual abuse. In response, California passed a law in 2002 that opened a one-year window in 2003 for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits against their abusers, regardless of when the abuse occurred. This allowed many victims to come forward and seek justice, often against organizations or individuals that the statute of limitations had previously protected.

Second Window in 2019

The law also allows for a three-year window, from January 1, 2020, to December 31, 2022, for victims who were previously barred from filing lawsuits due to the previous statute of limitations to file claims.

Victims’ advocacy groups have praised this new California sexual assault law as a significant step forward in providing justice and healing for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. However, the law has also been met with opposition from some organizations, particularly the Catholic Church, which has argued that the extended statute of limitations and the three-year window will result in a flood of lawsuits that could bankrupt some organizations.

AB 452 to Permanently Remove Statute of Limitations

The second window that temporarily eliminated the statute of limitations in California sex abuse cases closed at the end of 2022. The window’s closing reminded people… that the statute of limitations is just unfair in sex abuse cases.

So AB 452 was proposed as a new law in California to remove the time limits to file a civil lawsuit related to sexual abuse, at least as it relates to a minor. This means that survivors of sexual abuse can seek justice even years after the abuse occurred.

The problem with short statutes of limitations is that many survivors of sexual abuse cannot seek justice because the time limit on their claims has already expired. Many factors prevent children from reporting their abuse, such as feelings of shame and fear of not being believed. Even when survivors become adults, various barriers can prevent them from reporting their abusers, resulting in most survivors never disclosing their abuse.

AB 452 seeks to address this issue by removing the arbitrary time limit on civil lawsuits related to sexual abuse of minors. This means survivors can seek justice regardless of age or how long it took them to come forward. The law follows similar actions taken by the federal government and other states, including Michigan, Maryland, Vermont, Delaware, North Carolina, and Maine, to eliminate statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors.

Church Bankruptcies Threatened

Several Catholic dioceses in California say they are considering filing for bankruptcy due to the surge in child sexual abuse lawsuits they face. Victims of abuse have filed hundreds of lawsuits after California paused its statute of limitations on child sexual abuse claims for three years.

That pause ended on December 31, 2022, prompting several dioceses to consider bankruptcy, including Oakland, San Diego, and Sacramento. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Santa Rosa in Northern California has already filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with other dioceses within the state also evaluating their financial options.

Bankruptcy critics argue that dioceses’ use of bankruptcy prevents victims’ lawsuits under California’s new sexual assault law from being heard individually while protecting their reputations and funds. However, dioceses argue that bankruptcy is necessary to provide compensation to survivors. The Catholic Church has been criticized for handling the abuse scandal, and as more lawsuits are filed, more dioceses may be forced to file for bankruptcy.

California Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act

The California Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act (AB 2777) became law in September 2022 and became effective on January 1, 2023. This legislation introduces a three-year window for survivors of sexual assault to file claims against their abusers and the institutions involved in covering up the abuse, even if the statute of limitations has expired.

The law applies to claims dating back to January 1, 2009, encompassing a wide-ranging definition of sexual assault. It also defines “cover-up” as any organized effort to conceal evidence related to a sexual assault, thereby discouraging individuals from coming forward or preventing the disclosure of information regarding a sexual assault to the plaintiff.

The primary objective of this law is to empower survivors of sexual assault to seek justice and hold both their perpetrators and the entities involved in covering up the abuse accountable. Additionally, the legislation aims to serve as a deterrent against future incidents of sexual abuse and cover-ups that have been commonplace in clergy sex abuse cases.

Key features of the California Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act include:

  1. There is a three-year window for survivors to file claims, regardless of the statute of limitations.
  2. Applicability to claims from January 1, 2009, onwards.
  3. Inclusive definitions of sexual assault and cover-up.
  4. The ability for survivors to sue both their abusers and complicit institutions.

Calculating Settlement Amounts in Sex Abuse Cases in California

In many sex abuse cases in California, victims are awarded settlements by the institutions or individuals responsible for their abuse. The amount of these settlements can vary widely depending on the case’s specifics.

One factor that can influence the size of a settlement is the severity of the abuse suffered by the victim. Victims who have suffered more severe abuse, such as repeated assaults over a long period, may be awarded larger settlements than those who experienced a single instance of abuse.

Another factor influencing settlement amounts is the institution or individual responsible for the abuse. For example, settlements involving the Catholic Church or other large institutions may be larger than settlements involving individual abusers with fewer assets.

Finally, the legal team representing the victim can also play a role in determining the size of a settlement. Experienced attorneys with a track record of success in sex abuse cases may be able to negotiate larger settlements on behalf of their clients.

Should You File a Sex Abuse Lawsuit

Filing a sex abuse lawsuit can be a very difficult and emotional decision. It can involve reliving painful memories and potentially facing the abuser in court. While seeking justice and holding abusers accountable is important for survivors, the legal process can be complex and overwhelming, starting with how even to file a sexual abuse claim in California.

So, yes, you should talk to a lawyer to discuss what to expect and potential outcomes. But if you have a good sexual abuse case, particularly a clergy abuse lawsuit where settlements have been ubiquitous, a lawyer will tell you to file a lawsuit. Is that the best thing for you? It really depends on the person. You must do what is best for you when considering the emotional (and compensatory) benefits and risks.

Our law firm is dedicated to helping victims of sexual abuse navigate the legal system, seek compensation for their suffering, and hold their abusers and any negligent parties responsible. We understand the sensitivity of these cases and provide compassionate support throughout the process. We aim to empower survivors and help them move toward healing and recovery.

California Sex Abuse Verdicts and Settlements

  • $244,250 Settlement (California 2021): In this case, a 15-year-old girl was placed in a foster home by the County child welfare department. She alleged that after being placed at the home, she was sexually abused by the adult son of the foster parents. She filed suit against the County of San Bernadino and the foster family agency because they filed to take action to stop the abuse and failed to establish and follow appropriate policies to supervise her safety in foster care.
  • $250,000 Settlement (California 2020): The plaintiff in this case alleged that when he was an inmate at the L.A. County Juvenile Detention Center, he was sexually assaulted by one of the deputy juvenile probation officers on four separate occasions. The plaintiff alleged that he reported the incidents. Still, the defendant (County of Los Angeles) did not take any action against the officer, and the staff at the facility allegedly retaliated against him for making the report.
  • $504,604 Settlement (California 2020): When he was four years old, the plaintiff was placed in a foster care home by the County of San Bernadino. While living at the foster home, he was allegedly sexually abused by a 13-year-old boy who was also living at the home. Despite reporting the incident, he was left in the home, after which he was assaulted again. A guardian for the boy brought a lawsuit against the County and the foster care agency.
  • $625,000 Settlement (California 2019): A minor female was allegedly sexually abused by the head coach/recreation services supervisor of the Eddie Heredia Boxing Club, operated by the County of Los Angeles and its Department of Parks and Recreation. The coach allegedly brought the plaintiff into his office on multiple occasions and engaged in sexual conduct with her. She filed suit against the County, claiming that it knew or should have known about the coach’s propensity to engage in this conduct and that they were aware of the incidents but did nothing to stop it.
  • $85,000 Settlement (California 2019): A 15-year-old boy was allegedly sexually assaulted by fellow team members at the defendant Moreno Valley Unified School District. His mother brought a lawsuit against the school system, alleging that it negligently failed to supervise the students and prevent the assault.
  • $325,000 Settlement (California 2019): The plaintiff, an adult female, claimed that a correctional officer sexually assaulted her on several occasions while she was an inmate at the Century Regional Detention Center. She claimed that the officer had previously been on probation for similar behavior and that the County negligently allowed him to continue supervising female inmates.

Hiring a California Sex Abuse Lawyer

Our law firm handles sex abuse lawsuits in California and across the nation. When you hire us, we pair ourselves with the best California sex abuse lawyers and pay them out of our attorney fees if you win. This means you will not have to pay additional contingency fees for having two law firms working on your case. Additionally, you only owe a fee if we successfully secure a settlement compensation or jury payout for you.

Call us to learn how we would file a California sex abuse lawsuit for you. Get information about where you begin and what this path will look like, and see if it is a path you want to take with us. You can get a free, no-obligation consultation online or call us today at 800-553-8082.

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