Sunday, June 18, 2006
Case Law Development: Missouri Allows Victims of Alleged Sexual Abuse to Continue with Legal Actions under Certain Conditions
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled June 13 en banc that the statute of limitations begins to run in a case involving allegations of sexual abuse when the damage resulting from the alleged abuse was sustained and capable of ascertainment. It held that Missouri law specifically requires that, for a claim to accrue, that there must be a wrongful act, damages must result from that act, and those damages must be "capable of ascertainment." It said that to hold that the statute of limitations begins to run at the time of the wrong would render meaningless the additional language in state law that the wrong "is capable of ascertainment." If damages are not capable of ascertainment at either the time of the wrong or the time of discovery of the wrong and resulting damages, the statute of limitations begins to run when the evidence would place a reasonably prudent person on notice of a potentially actionable injury. This is an objective test of when the damages would be substantially complete.
The ruling arose from a claim by the plaintiff that he remembered being molested until approximately age 17 but then repressed his memories. It was not until February 2000, when he was 41 years old, that the alleged victim was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In the course of treatment for that condition, he alleges he regained previously repressed memories of sexual abuse. The case was remanded with instructions to the trial court to apply the newly announced objective standard. The slip opinion of the Missouri Supreme Court in Powel v. Chaminade College Preparatory, Inc., et. al, filed June 13, may be found by clicking here (last visited June 17, 2006, reo).