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Statute of Limitations for Oregon Child Sex Abuse Claims Expires at Age 40, Not 24

The Oregon Court of Appeals held in August 2017 that a lower court had improperly determined that civil claims filed by a child sexual abuse victim were time-barred. While the statute of limitations in effect at the time of the abuse required the victim to bring suit by his 24th birthday, a retroactively-applied amendment in effect when he filed his claims extended the deadline until his 40th birthday.

In 1993, ORS 12.117(1) required that civil claims of child sexual abuse be filed within six years of the child’s eighteenth birthday. In 2009, however, state lawmakers amended the statute to require that litigation be commenced before the victim attains 40 years of age. The 2009 legislation provided that the amendment would apply to all causes of action “whether arising before, on or after the effective date” of the act, unless a judgment was previously entered before the effective date.

As a child, a victim identified as John Doe was friends with the son of Samuel Arthur Silverman. In 1996, Silverman sexually molested Doe on several occasions; the following year, Silverman was convicted of sexually abusing Doe and sentenced to prison. See: State v. Silverman, 159 Or. App. 524, 977 P.2d 1186 (Or. App. 2000).

When Doe was 30 years old, he filed a lawsuit against Silverman and his wife alleging negligence, sexual battery and intentional infliction of severe emotional distress. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing the action was time-barred under the 1993 version of ORS 12.117, which was in effect at the time of the abuse and required Doe to file suit no later than when he turned 24. The trial court agreed that Doe’s claims had expired when he was 24 years old and dismissed the case as time-barred.

The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed. “The plain text of the enacting legislation confirms that the legislature intended that the new statute of limitations for actions based on child abuse apply to all causes of action, no matter when the cause of action arose,” the Court explained. “Based on that plain text, the 2009 amendment to ORS 12.117 applied to plaintiff’s claims because he had not previously litigated them to judgment.” See: Doe v. Silverman, 287 Or. App. 247, 401 P.3d 793 (Or. App. 2017). 

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Related legal case

Doe v. Silverman