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Illinois Supreme Court Decision Deals Blow to Sexual Abuse Victims’ Rights

The Illinois Supreme Court has limited the viability of many sexual abuse claims with its September 24th decision in Doe v. Diocese of Dallas. The issue before the Court was whether the 2003 amendments to the Childhood Sexual Abuse could be applied to a claim that had expired under the statutory framework that was in place before the amendments were enacted. The Doe case involved a claim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest that allegedly occurred in 1984. The victim’s claim expired prior to the amendments to the statute in 2003 under the old version of the statute. However, the 2003 statute extended the limitations periods for the filing of sexual abuse lawsuits. When considered under the framework of the 2003 amendments, the sexual abuse victim would be able to pursue a claim. By its plain language, the 2003 amendments apply to ‘all actions pending on July 24, 2003, as well as all actions commenced on or after that date.’ The victim’s lawsuit was filed after these amendments were enacted.

The Illinois Supreme Court determined that the 2003 amendments, which extended the limitations periods for asserting a sexual abuse claim, could not be retroactively applied. In doing so the Court said, “once a statute of limitations has expired, the defendant has a vested right to invoke the bar of the limitations period as a defense to a cause of action. That right cannot be taken away by the legislature without offending the due process protections of our state’s constitution.” In other words, the Illinois Supreme Court decided that applying the amendments to all actions commenced on or after 2003, as intended by the legislature, would violate the Illinois Constitution. This decision meant that the sexual abuse victim in Doe could not pursue his sexual abuse case.

The decision will defeat some otherwise meritorious sexual abuse claims in Illinois. However, there are still avenues of relief open to sexual abuse victims in Illinois. The Klest Law Firm wrote a ‘friend of the court’ brief on behalf of sexual abuse victims in the Doe case. Additionally, experienced victims’ rights attorney Joseph G. Klest helped draft the amendments that were at issue in the Doe case. If you have any questions about the victims’ rights in Illinois or would like to speak to an experienced sexual abuse attorney, please click here.