The general statute of limitations in Massachusetts for personal injury claims including those alleging damage as a result of sexual assault or abuse is three years. There are a number of exceptions to this general rule.

In cases involving sexual assault or abuse, the most important is where the assault or abuse causing the personal injury was committed on a minor victim. Section 4C of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 260 has three alternative ways to compute the statute of limitations where the victim is a minor.

The first is the usual three year rule which allows suit for personal injuries to be filed within three years of the sexual assault or abuse.  The second method of computing the time starts the clock running when the victim reaches age 18. Using this method, the three year statute of limitations allows the suit to be filed up until the victim reaches age 21.

The third and final method allows the personal injury suit to be filed in court within three years of the time that the victim “…discovered or reasonably should have discovered that an emotional or psychological injury or condition…” was caused by the sexual assault or abuse.  Under this part of the rule, it is possible that personal injury suits can be filed many years after the sexual assault or abuse of a minor victim.  A case decided by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has defined what is reasonable for this statute of limitations: “The reasonable person who serves as the standard in this evaluation is not a detached, outside observer assessing the situation without being affected by it.  Rather, it is a reasonable person who has been subjected to the conduct which forms the basis for the plaintiff’s complaint.” Riley v. Presnell, 409 Mass. 239, 245 (1991)

Because of the complexity of the Massachusetts statute of limitations for claims of sexual assault and abuse, a personal injury attorney with experience in this area of sexual assault and abuse law should be consulted particularly in cases where the victim is a minor.

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