Can an Oklahoma Adult File a Lawsuit for Sex Abuse Experienced as a Child?

What is the statute of limitations in Oklahoma for a person who was sexually abused as a child and wants to bring a lawsuit against the abuser? It may be longer than you think.

The question was brought to mind this week by a lawsuit in California against Bill Cosby that accuses the entertainer of sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles in 1974.

That’s more than 40 years ago. The plaintiff, Judy Huth, is now in her 50s. Cosby is 78. Doesn’t the statute of limitations prevent a civil action so long after the alleged offense occurred? Nor necessarily. On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court decided to allow the lawsuit against Cosby to continue.

A statute of limitations (SOL) is the legal deadline for a person to file a lawsuit. Many civil complaints have a SOL of two years. But when do those two years begin?

For most offenses, the SOL begins when the offense occurs. However, in offenses against a minor, almost all states delay the SOL. The legal term for delaying a SOL is “tolling.” In Oklahoma, the SOL on childhood sexual abuse is tolled until the victim is 18. In other words, an 18-year-old has at least two years to file a complaint of being sexually abused as a child. For example, a 19-year-old could file a lawsuit about abuse experienced when she was 7, more than ten years earlier.

In addition to the standard tolling for offenses against minors, many states provide additional SOL extensions specifically for cases of sexual abuse of children. These special provisions are based on the theory that some victims of childhood sex abuse experience such trauma that they repress their memories of the abuse. Other victims may remember what happened to them, but may fail to recognize the emotional and psychology damages caused by the abuse until later in life.

When an adult who experienced sexual abuse as a child seeks professional help, in counseling or therapy, they may be helped to remember the abuse they experienced, and they may also be helped to recognize the connection between the childhood abuse and emotional and psychological problems which may have continued into or emerged during adulthood.

In Oklahoma, as in many others states, the SOL allows an adult to file such a lawsuit many years after the abuse. The victim must file the suit within two years of realizing the damage one experienced as a result of the childhood abuse.

It is all spelled out in Title 12, Section 95, of the Oklahoma Statutes. Here is an excerpt:

“An action based on intentional conduct brought by any person for recovery of damages for injury suffered as a result of childhood sexual abuse incidents … can only be brought within the latter of the following periods:

* within two years of the act alleged to have caused the injury or condition, or

* within two years of the time the victim discovered or reasonably should have discovered that the injury or condition was caused by the act or that the act caused the injury for which the claim is brought.

“… The time limit for commencement of an action … is tolled for a child until the child reaches the age of 18 years or until five years after the perpetrator is released from the custody of a state, federal or local correctional facility or jail, whichever is later. …

“The victim … may compute the date of discovery from the date of discovery of the last act by the same perpetrator which is part of a common scheme or plan of sexual abuse, exploitation, or incest.”

Proving It In Court

However, it is easier to file a lawsuit than to win one. The adult who wants to take legal action many years after experiencing abuse faces a two-fold burden of proof. First the plaintiff must satisfy the SOL by proving she only recently became conscious of the offense or the damage it caused. Then she must prove the abuse itself.

Here is another quote from the above Oklahoma law:

“An action pursuant to this paragraph must be based upon objective verifiable evidence in order for the victim to recover damages for injuries suffered by reason of such sexual abuse, exploitation, or incest.

“The evidence should include both proof that the victim had psychologically repressed the memory of the facts upon which the claim was predicated and that there was corroborating evidence that the sexual abuse, exploitation, or incest actually occurred.”

If the offense and its traumatizing effects came to light in counseling or therapy, the counselor or therapist may be able to testify to the first point. Proving the second point, the abuse itself, is often difficult, especially many years after the fact.

  • Did anyone witness the offense? A parent? A sibling?
  • Did anyone else experience abuse by the same offender?
  • Did you tell anyone about the offense at the time it occurred?
  • Did a teacher, school counselor, social worker, or family friend become aware of the abuse or suspect abuse?

A Significant Problem

About 1,700 cases of child sexual abuse are confirmed in Oklahoma each year, according to the Good Health Handbook published by the state Health Department.

Most experts believe there are many more incidents of abuse in addition to the confirmed cases. It is estimated that one in four girls and one in seven boys in Oklahoma are sexually abused by the age of 18.

Free Consultation

If you experienced sexual abuse as a child and are considering a lawsuit against the offender, contact Hasbrook & Hasbrook for a free consultation. Your consultation with us is completely and absolutely confidential.

We will review your case to determine if you meet the statute of limitations and have sufficient evidence to support your complaint. If we accept your case, we will do so on contingency, which means you pay us only if your case is successful in court.

Contact Hasbrook & Hasbrook by telephone (866-416-4737), email (cth@hasbrooklaw.com) or use our website contact form: Contact Us.