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Massachusetts law about statutes of limitations in civil sexual abuse cases

A compilation of laws, cases and web sources on statutes of limitations in civil sexual abuse cases law.

Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

35 years Statute of limitations

MGL c. 260 § 2A  Statute of limitations for tort actions   

MGL c. 260 § 4C  Statute of limitations for sexual abuse of minors (civil cases)
"Actions of tort alleging the defendant sexually abused a minor shall be commenced within 35 years of the acts alleged to have caused an injury or condition or within 7 years of the time the victim discovered or reasonably should have discovered that an emotional or psychological injury or condition was caused by said act, whichever period expires later; provided, however, that the time limit for commencement of an action under this section is tolled for a child until the child reaches eighteen years of age."

MGL c.260, § 4C-1/2 Negligent supervision or conduct causing or contributing to the sexual abuse of minor by another person

Selected cases

Doe v. Creighton, 439 Mass. 281 (2003)
"A plaintiff who brings suit beyond the normal statutory limitations period may not reach a jury simply by presenting evidence that sexual abuse took place. In order to survive a motion for summary judgment in those circumstances, a plaintiff must show that the nature of the abuse was such that it would cause an objectively reasonable person to fail to recognize the causal connection between it and the injuries that it caused."

Koe v. Mercer, 450 Mass. 97 (2007)
Once a plaintiff knows of the connection, the statute of limitations begins to run, even if he does not know the "full extent or nature of [the] injury."

Phinney v. Morgan, 39 Mass. App. Ct. 202 (1995) review denied 421 Mass. 1104 (1995)
The adult plaintiffs claimed they were harmed by their mother's failure to protect them from their father's sexual abuse while they were minors. The court did extend the "discovery rule" to non-perpetrators but concluded plaintiffs were still time barred.

Riley v. Presnell, 409 Mass. 239 (1991)
The court decided that the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the plaintiff knows or reasonably could have known that he may have suffered injury due to the psychotherapist's conduct (discovery rule). The question of when a plaintiff should have known about his cause of action is one of fact.

Print sources

Defending the unthinkable: strategies for litigating charges of child sexual abuse, NACDL , 2018.

"Limitation of Actions," 51 Am. Jur. 2d Limitation of Actions, Tolling Exceptions §§ 148-194.

"Running of Limitations Against Action for Civil Damages for Sexual Abuse of Child," 9 ALR5th 321



Within Massachusetts only

Within Massachusetts only


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Last updated: September 1, 2020