Various types of lawsuits are governed by “statutes of limitations” stating the time limits by which a person must file a complaint in court or lose the right to do so. In Cisko v. Diocese of Steubenville, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals considers how those time limits apply to a decades-old claim alleging sexual abuse by priests.
The lawsuit stemmed from allegations that two priests in the Diocese sexually abused Mr. Cisko in 1966 and 1967 and was filed on behalf of Cisko’s estate by a personal representative. The complaint, filed in 2009 and alleging claims for negligence, asserted that Mr. Cisko suffered a form of amnesia as a result of the abuse and that this condition blocked his memory of the events until sometime in 2006.
The statute of limitations on negligence claims in Florida is four years. That means that a person suing for negligence in the state must file suit within four years from the date of the injury caused by the alleged negligence. Although Cisko’s lawsuit wasn’t filed until roughly 42 years after the alleged abuse ended, his personal representative argued that the late filing was permissible under the “delayed discovery doctrine” set forth by the Florida Supreme Court in Hearndon v. Graham. In that case, the state’s highest court held that a plaintiff in a tort action based on alleged child abuse who claims to have suffered traumatic amnesia as a result of the abuse may toll (or freeze) the relevant statute of limitations until the amnesia subsides.
A trial court nevertheless ruled that the action was barred by the statute of limitations, however, finding that the Hearndon ruling applied only to tort claims and not also to claims for negligence. On appeal, the Third District agreed.
“A plain reading of Hearndon makes clear the holding is limited to its specific historical and procedural facts,” the appeals court explained. Specifically, that case centered around a plaintiff who sued her stepfather, alleging claims for intentional tort. “The opinion strongly suggests the holding hinges not only on these specific allegations but also on the specific cause of action: a suit for intentional tort against the perpetrator,” according to the Third District. The court further noted that this narrow reading of Hearndon was also supported by the state Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling in Davis v. Monahan, in which the high court stated explicitly that Hearndon stood for the application of the delayed discovery doctrine only in the intentional tort context.
As a result, the appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision dismissing the lawsuit.
The statute of limitations is one of a wide variety of legal issues that a person considering suing for personal injury should consider prior to filing suit. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, contact the South Florida personal injury lawyers at Anidjar & Levine for a free initial consultation. We represent clients throughout the region, including in Hialeah, Pompano Beach and Boca Raton, and are dedicated to helping people get back on their feet after an accident. Call the firm’s Fort Lauderdale offices today at 800-747-3733.
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