Michigan lawmakers are considering new bills to give people more time to file lawsuits for sexual abuse and assault. The bills would extend the statute of limitations to sue for sex abuse and assault in Michigan to age 52. If passed, these laws would provide a lookback window for past victims to file lawsuits. That means anyone who was abused or molested, including as a minor, may be able to seek justice, even if they were previously told that it was too late.
It may seem scary to file a lawsuit for sexual abuse, assault, or harassment. Here is a comprehensive guide to filing a lawsuit for sexual trauma in Michigan to help make the process clear.
How long do I have to file a lawsuit for sexual harassment, assault or abuse in Michigan?
Every state has its own laws governing the time limit for filing a lawsuit for sexual trauma. These laws are called statutes of limitations.
In Michigan, adult survivors of sexual abuse or assault generally have 10 years to file a lawsuit. If the abuse occurred when a person was a minor, the time to file a lawsuit is until the age of 28, or three years after the individual discovers that an event caused an injury.
This is really important. The clock doesn’t begin running for victims of child sexual abuse until the moment they realize that an experience caused an injury.
Many predators disguise their abuse and groom their victims. Children may not realize in the moment what is happening. Victims of sexual abuse may dissociate during the experience and symptoms may not arise until years, or even decades, later. Some people repress memories of an assault, and may not realize what happened until they experience a flashback much later. Or some people may struggle with mental health problems for a long time and not realize it was caused by abuse until later.
Once that connection is made, that’s when the clock starts ticking.
Most people do not come forward before their 20s. In fact, the average age for disclosure of child sex abuse is 52. If you did not make the connection between an injury and abuse for a long time, you are not alone.
That’s why Michigan lawmakers want to extend the statute of limitations. If you’ve ever been told it’s too late, these bills may give you another chance to seek justice.
Why can I sue for sexual abuse, harassment, or assault?
Sexual trauma is a devastating experience. The psychological and emotional damage of sexual assault, abuse, or harassment can last a lifetime. Survivors may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, sleep disturbance, substance abuse and other issues.
These often-debilitating problems can be expensive to manage, which is why it is important for survivors to have the resources they need to heal.
The people of Michigan have seen how powerful institutions can fail to protect people, especially children, from predators. The justice system is here for survivors to hold these institutions accountable for their failures.
Who is responsible for sexual trauma like assault, abuse, or harassment?
Let’s get one thing clear here. It’s not your fault.
Sexual assault, child sex abuse, and the entire spectrum of sexual harassment are crimes.
The perpetrator is to blame for the violation. However, it’s also the fault of the systems that allowed the violation to occur. Legally speaking, if an institution failed to properly protect people from foreseeable harm, it can be held responsible for negligence.
Who will believe me?
Many survivors are afraid of filing a lawsuit because they think no one will believe them. They are often surprised when they initiate legal action because this is not actually their lawyer’s concern.
Court documents are public records, and few organizations want to go on the record for doubting the validity of a sexual assault, abuse or harassment claim. It’s just bad PR. Instead, they will try to fight using other tactics. Often, they try to argue that they just weren’t responsible. They will say something like, “We are so sorry to hear that you were abused. However, the abuser was a bad apple. It’s not our fault.”
How is an institution responsible for sexual trauma?
When a church, private organization, company, healthcare facility, school or government agency hires an employee or volunteer, that institution has the legal responsibility to check the person’s background and make sure they do not pose a threat to the community.
Bad actors may fall through the cracks. The legal system understands this reality. However, we as a society have seen over and over again how major institutions such as universities, churches, hospitals, sports organizations and more became aware that something was wrong, and instead of acting on it, swept reports under the rug.
This is why an institution can be held responsible for negligence. Institutions are responsible for protecting people — especially children — from foreseeable harm.
Our experienced sexual abuse attorneys have often uncovered evidence that an institution was aware that a perpetrator was a bad actor, but failed to do anything about it. Even more horrifically, we have found systemic cover-up at several organizations that we have sued on behalf of our clients.
Who has to pay for the damages caused by sexual trauma?
Institutions are required by law to carry insurance, and insurance policies cover damages caused by injuries. If someone walked into a school building and a brick fell on their head, they wouldn’t think twice about filing a claim to cover medical costs and lost wages. Sexual trauma has very real consequences that can be expensive to manage. Insurance is meant to cover these injuries.
Do I have to file a police report to sue for sexual assault or harassment in Michigan?
Unwanted sexual contact is a crime. The law allows victims to seek justice for these crimes. However, there is a difference between the civil legal process and the criminal one.
To press criminal charges, you file a police report to begin a criminal investigation. The district attorney or prosecutor will investigate the case, and the end result could be the perpetrator’s arrest or incarceration.
The civil process does not involve law enforcement, arrest or incarceration. Instead, the victim seeks to recover financial damages by filing a civil lawsuit against an individual or an institution.