Sexual Abuse and Psychological Injury; Statute of Limitations

Haynes v. Haggerty, 784 S.E.2d 293 (Va. 2016)

For cases where the childhood sexual abuse occurred before October 1977, the two-year statute of limitations for civil action seeking damages starts when the victim reaches majority. As of October 1977, the two-year statute of limitations starts to run either after the victim has attained majority or after the victim has been advised by a licensed physician or psychologist that the person has an injury caused by the prior abuse.

Background: Nancy Haynes alleged that Sean Haggerty had a sexual relationship with her between the years of 1971 and 1975, while she was a minor. Haynes reached majority in March of 1975. In October 1977, Virginia Code Section 8.01-249(6) was passed, which dictated that causes of action based on childhood sexual abuse accrue when the fact of the injury and its causal connection to the abuse is first communicated to the victim by a licensed physician, psychologist, or clinical psychologist. This statute specifically noted that victimizations that occurred before the passing of this statute would be dictated by the former statute, which stated that causes of action based on childhood sexual abuse accrue upon reaching majority. In May of 2012, Haynes was diagnosed by her therapist with Dysthymic Disorder, which the therapist said was a result of Haggerty sexually abusing her when she was a minor. Haynes brought suit against Haggerty seeking damages for sexual assault and battery.

The circuit court held that the statute of limitations applicable in 1975 had expired before the passage of 8.01-249(6) and thus its application to this case would deprive Haggerty of due process and property right to a statute of limitations defense. Also, the court concluded that Haynes’ extremely protracted failure to act though being fully aware of Haggerty’s sexual misconduct would egregiously undermine Haggerty’s constitutional rights to due process. Haynes appealed the decision.

Holding: The Supreme Court held that Haynes’ causes of actions were dictated by the preceding statute, which stated that the statute of limitations governing the claims would be tolled until the alleged victim reached majority. 8.01-249(6) therefore did not apply to Haynes’ claim and the circuit court did not err in granting Haggerty’s plea in bar.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 2