January 25, 2007
Case Law Development: Continuing Tort Doctrine Applies in Measuring Statute of Limitations for Domestic Violence Torts
The statute of limitations on a domestic violence claim does not begin to run until the last alleged act of violence has occurred, the California Court of Appeal has held. The court concluded that domestic violence is a continuing tort, not comprised of distinct torts that trigger a variety of limitations periods upon their occurrence. The plaintiff had sued her estranged husband for assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of civil rights, alleging that he engaged in a pattern of domestic violence that started a few months after they married in 1989. The complaint included allegations of kicking, hitting, choking, sexual abuse and death threats. The plaintiff claimed the physical abuse ended in April 2001, while the emotional abuse continued until April 2004, two years after she filed for a divorce. The defendant in the action had sought to exclude all references to acts he allegedly committed against his estranged wife more than three years before she filed her complaint.
The court noted that “While we recognize the difficulty a spouse or ex-spouse may have in defending against domestic violence cases, the continuing tort doctrine seems especially applicable in such cases.” The court reasoned that “Most domestic violence victims are subjected to ‘an ongoing strategy of intimidation, isolation, and control that extends to all areas of a woman’s life, including sexuality; material necessities; relations with family, children, and friends; and work,’” Moreover the court noted that the California code of civil procedure states that domestic violence lawsuits must be commenced within three years from the date of the “last act” of alleged violence. The court concluded that “The words ‘last act’ are superfluous if they have no meaning .... By adding these words, we believe the Legislature adopted by statute the continuing tort theory, thus allowing domestic violence victims to recover damages for all acts of domestic violence occurring during the marriage, provided the victim proves a continuing course of abusive conduct and files suit within three years of the ‘last act of domestic violence.’”
Pugliese v. Superior Court, (January 23, 2007)
Opinion on the web (last visited January 24, 2007 bgf)
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