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Extended Limitations Period for Personal Injury Claims Based on Criminal Sexual Conduct

Attorneys can generally, almost instinctively, name the applicable statute of limitations for a particular cause of action. Under Texas law, however, the statute of limitations applicable to a particular cause of action may vary based on the facts and circumstances underlying the cause of action. These exceptions to the statute of limitations may come as a surprise, even to experienced attorneys.

Ordinarily, a person must bring suit for personal injury on or before the two-year anniversary of the day the cause of action accrues. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 16.003(a). A cause of action based on personal injury accrues when events have occurred that allow a person to seek a judicial remedy. Robinson v. Weaver, 550 S.W.2d 18, 19 (Tex. 1977). For example, a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress accrues when the wrongful act is committed that causes the claimant to suffer emotional distress. Long v. Houston Northwest Medical Center, Inc., 1991 Tex. App. Houston 1991 WL 19837 (Tex. App. Houston 1st Dist. Feb. 14, 1991). Predictably, certain principles, such as the discovery rule, work to limit this general rule.

An important caveat to the two-year statute of limitations applies to certain personal injury claims. A five- year, not two-year, limitations period applies when the plaintiff’s claim is predicated on conduct that also constitutes violation of a specifically enumerated criminal statute, including sexual assault and continuous sexual abuse of a young child. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 16.0045(a). Further, when the plaintiff is a minor at the time the cause of action accrues, the statute of limitations is tolled until the child’s eighteenth birthday, meaning that a plaintiff has until his or her twenty-third birthday to file suit. See Doe v. Catholic Diocese of El Paso, 362 S.W.3d 707, 717 (Tex. App. El Paso 2011). Ostensibly, the statute only encompasses claims based on personal injury resulting directly from conduct that violates one of the enumerated criminal statutes. Texas courts have applied the statute liberally, however. Not only does the five-year limitations period apply to tort claims based directly on a defendant’s violation of one of the enumerated criminal statutes (e.g., battery), but also to causes of action against other defendants whose negligence, for example, may have contributed to the plaintiff’s injury. See Id.