Va. Courts say employers not liable for abuse

Va. Courts say employers not liable for abuse

Two Virginia Circuit Court judges have ruled that victims of child sexual abuse cannot sue the employers of their abusers if the victims file civil lawsuits years later as adults.

In two separate cases June 8 in Richmond and Norfolk, the rulings sided with the Roman Catholic Diocese in Richmond, a defendant in both lawsuits. The rulings mean that churches, school, corporations and other institutions cannot be held financially liable for abuse by an employee if a victim seeks damages years later.

Virginia personal injury laws have allowed people to file a lawsuit only within two years of an incident for years, and the same standard was used in childhood sexual abuse cases. The two-year statute of limitations for minors who suffered sexual abuse began when the victim turned 18. Because victims of child sexual abuse can repress the events and recall them later, the Virginia legislature enacted a 1991 law allowing adults to file suit within two years of becoming aware of their abuse through the diagnosis of a mental health professional.

Virginia Supreme Court struck the law down as being an unconstitutional extension of the time period for filing civil damage lawsuits, and the legislature countered with the 1994 constitutional amendment permitting such extensions, but the amendment stated lawsuits could only be filed against a “natural person,” which Richmond Circuit Court Judge Walter W. Stout III and Norfolk Circuit Court Judge Joseph A. Leafe both concluded means an individual human being or the actual perpetrator of the abuse. Some legal experts said legislation in other states does not typically include a phrase like “natural person”.

For more information on Virginia personal injury laws, please contact us to confer with an attorney.

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