April 12, 2005

Church secrecy and very old claims.

When does the statute of limitations start to run on claims against the church based on child abuse by priests? Do we start counting when the plaintiff turned 21 or do we start counting when the church revealed its role in protecting the priests? In the case argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court today, it makes a big difference. Either the time to claim is counted from 1969 and is long past or from 2002. The alleged abuse took place between 1960 and 1962, and the priest in question died twelve years ago.

(The plaintiff's side was argued by Cardozo lawprof Marci Hamilton.)


Matt said...

Marci Hamilton was visiting at NYU during my second year of law school. I had the pleasure of taking her First Amendment class, and while I didn't do particularly well in it (got a B), she was an excellent counter-point to Derrick Bell. Was a shame she didn't stay, though I doubt the allegations that were bandied about (that she only didn't get an offer due to political bias) were true.

Dean said...

I am surprised that child abuse cases have a statute of limitations at all (perhaps I'm showing my ignorance of law here). There are usually cases that aren't revealed for a long time after the fact (as these are).

Having said that, doesn't the statute of limitations start at the commission of an act (again, I may be revealing my ignorance of law)? If so, it would seem that it is long past.

Ann Althouse said...

Dean: This is the question in issue in the case: when does the statute of limitations begin to run? The two answers in competition in this case are when the minor with a claim reaches the age of 21 or when the basis for the claim can be discovered (or some rule like that). You can see why this should be. How could a kid know he needs to sue? The defendant shouldn't get the advantage out of chosing immature victims. And what if defendant hides his responsibility? It's not fair for the statute to run during a period of active concealment.