Counseling Session Tolls Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Victim

  This case, Doe v. Doe, caught my eye because of the title. There are very few published cases entitled Doe v. Doe or Doe v. Roe. So, I had a look-see. The case is about the sexual molestation of a young parishioner by a Catholic priest and whether the case is time barred.

  There are no salacious or illicit details and it’s a tedious read — probably only of interest to the Catholic Church and its childhood sexual abuse victims – because of the tortured history of the statute of limitations. The case turns on the question of whether Insurance Code section 11583 operates to toll the statute of limitations so that, under the specific facts of the case, plaintiff’s action was timely filed.

  I write about it here because it illustrates clearly how fact driven a statute of limitations defense may be and how important it is to have fully reviewed all facts, and documentary evidence, before a determination that an action is time barred may be made. We lawyers already know that but there is no harm in a timely reminder.

  Section 11583 provides that in certain circumstances, namely when: 1) a claimant is an injured person; is 2) unrepresented by an attorney; and 3) an advance or partial payment is made as an accommodation to the claimant — that the claimant be advised in writing, at the beginning of payment, of the applicable statute of limitations applicable to the cause of action. “Failure to provide such written notice shall operate to toll any such applicable statute of limitations or time limitations from the time of such advance or partial payment until such written notice is actually given.”

  The complaint alleged that plaintiff was not represented by an attorney when he attended a counseling session provided by the Catholic Church and that he was not given notice of the limitations period as required by section 11583. The court held that the Church’s voluntary assumption of the cost of providing the the single counseling session was an advance payment of damages under Insurance Code section 11583 and that, because plaintiff alleged no such notice was given, the complaint adequately alleged tolling under section 11583.

  The take-away: In any action for injury to a person where an advance payment, or other accommodation, has been made to an unrepresented person Insurance Code section 11583 and its tolling provision must be considered as part of any statute of limitations analysis.