Rape is the most serious form of adult sexual assault recognized by the law. A rape occurs when the victim’s sex organ is penetrated by force against her will. The force used to commit rape can consist of threats to cause harm. Physical force is not required. Consent that is induced by threats or intimidation is not a defense to rape.
While criminal statutes allow the government to punish a rapist, they offer little opportunity for victims to recover compensation. Restitution in a criminal case is limited to the victim’s out-of-pocket expenses that resulted from the rape. Restitution does not cover pain, suffering, or emotional distress.
Rape survivors live with the memories of rape for the rest of their lives. Victims of rape must turn to the civil justice system to obtain compensation for that enduring harm.
To seek compensation, however, victims must file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires. Because the expiration date can be difficult to calculate, a rape victim should obtain legal advice from a Georgia sexual assault lawyer at her earliest opportunity.
Time Limit for Filing a Rape Case
Civil lawsuits are usually governed by a statute of limitations. For lawsuits seeking compensation for rape, some state’s statute of limitations generally requires the lawsuit to be filed within two years of the date on which the rape occurred.
There are exceptions to that two-year deadline. If the victim was under the age of eighteen when the rape occurred, the two-year time limit does not begin to run until the victim turns eighteen. Minor victims may, therefore, sue their rapist until they reach the age of twenty.
When victims are incapable of bringing a lawsuit because of a mental disability, the two-year period does not begin until the victim recovers from the disability. Since recovery is often unlikely, most lawsuits are commenced by a guardian on the victim’s behalf while the victim is still disabled.
Extending the Time Limit for Filing a Rape Case
Another law may extend the time for filing a rape lawsuit. That law provides that the time for filing a civil lawsuit is “tolled” when criminal charges relating to the conduct upon which the lawsuit is based are pending. When a time limit is tolled, the time for taking an action stops running until the tolling ends.
The tolling statute pauses the two-year time period for bringing a lawsuit until criminal charges are resolved. A charge might be resolved by a guilty plea, a jury verdict, or a dismissal.
In most cases, a rape victim will have two years after one of those court actions occurs in which to file a civil suit for rape. However, the victim must still bring the lawsuit within six years after the rape or the right to sue will be lost.
The same statute tolls the time period for bringing a lawsuit while criminal charges could be brought, whether or not they are not initiated. If no criminal charges are filed, the deadline for bringing a lawsuit is six years after the date of the rape.
Victims should keep in mind that the passage of time makes lawsuits harder to prove. Witnesses die or move away. Memories of details become harder to reconstruct. Juries might interpret long delays as evidence that the accusation is false. While rape victims understandably need time to process a rape and to gain the strength to bring a lawsuit, prompt action increases the likelihood of success.
A lawyer who represents victims of rape can help victims understand their right to receive compensation. Protecting the victim’s rights by calculating the time in which a lawsuit must be filed is one of the first steps a victim’s lawyer will take.
Thank you to Butler Law Firm for their insight into rape cases and the statute of limitations.