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How long do survivors have to file a civil lawsuit?

The full extent of the clergy sexual abuse scandal here in Michigan is still unfolding. New criminal charges, convictions and news reports suggest many survivors are still in the process of finding justice. Some of them may be wondering about the possibility of filing a civil lawsuit against their abuser, but are worried too much time has passed.

What does the law allow for? Far more time than it used to.

How much time survivors now have

Michigan’s current law is still relatively new. Prior to the summer of 2018, survivors of child sexual abuse often had just a couple of years to file a civil lawsuit seeking damages. Now they have much longer.

A bill signed into law on June 12, 2018, extends the civil statute of limitations significantly. Anyone sexually abused as a minor can now file a civil suit:

  • Until they reach the age of 28
  • Up to three years after they discover the abuse caused an injury to them

“This legislation is an important step forward,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley the day of the signing, “but there is still more work to do.”

Is there room for further improvement?

While this recent change to the law is a significant improvement, the state has an opportunity to make things even better. The organization CHILD USA keeps track of statute of limitations laws pertaining to child sex abuse across the country. It also groups states based on how effective it believes those laws actually are, grading them on a scale of 1 (the worst) to 5 (the best).

CHILD USA’s 2019 report gives Michigan a 3, the same rank as about half of all U.S. states. Only six states have a worse rating, while 20 states plus Washington D.C. received a higher mark. Three states – Delaware, Minnesota and Vermont – got a 5.

While survivors in Michigan have more opportunity to pursue justice and accountability than ever before through a civil lawsuit, these rankings suggest the law could be even better.

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