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Case Will Test Statute Of Limitations On Sex Charges – Our Successes

Chicago Tribune Wednesday, January 13, 1999
Two women from Aurora say they were molested when they were young girls by a Roman Catholic brother formerly with the Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, a mission in Aurora.

Do they have a right to sue for damages two or three decades after the alleged abuse occurred?

That is a question Brother Richard Kuhl wants the Illinois Supreme Court to answer.

Attorneys for Kuhl late last week filed an affidavit indicating their intent to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court a ruling by the Illinois Appellate Court reinstating a civil lawsuit brought against Kuhl by the women in Kane County Circuit Court.

Kuhl, 72, has not been charged with a crime.

Since the civil allegations of sexual molestation were leveled against him, he has been transferred to a mission in Center Valley, PA.

The two women, now 34 and 32, filed separate lawsuits against Kuhl in 1996, alleging that he molested them and caused them psychological damage. The 32-year-old woman alleged that Kuhl molested her on and off from the time she was 10 until she was 15.

The 34-year-old woman alleged the abuse occurred over a seven-year period beginning when she was 5.

A Kane County Circuit judge dismissed the lawsuits in 1997, saying the women’s claims had expired under the statute of limitations.

But in a ruling issued last month, the 2nd District Appellate Court reinstated their cases. The court, which hears appeals from throughout northern Illinois except those from Cook County, ruled a 1991 law that extended the statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases makes the women’s lawsuit timely.

In June, the 2nd District reinstated another case against Kuhl brought by yet another woman, for similar reasons.

Both rulings not only reversed the circuit judge’s decision but seemed to conflict with the 2nd District’s earlier interpretation of the statute of limitations question.

In a 1996 ruling, the 2nd District Appellate Court interpreted existing laws as mandating that the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases begins when a victim reaches 18, and ends when they turn 20.

Appeals courts in other jurisdictions had ruled differently, applying a common law theory to extend the statute of limitations.

Recognizing that sometimes victims of childhood sexual abuse recall the abuse years later it takes place, the common law, which was made into a state law in 1991, gives victims two years from the time they remember they were abused to bring a claim.

In theory, the law allows people of any age to bring an action for damages against their alleged abuser.

Lawyers for Kuhl said they hope the Illinois Supreme Court could clarify exactly when the statute of limitation expires. Can the 1991 law extending the statute of limitations apply to victims who turned 20 before 1991?

“We need to clarify what the rule is in Illinois,” said Julie Trester, one of the lawyers representing Kuhl. “The Supreme Court takes cases to provide guidance on issues of importance, and this is an issue of great importance to a number of courts in Illinois.”

Joseph Klest, the attorney representing a total of five women in claims of sexual abuse against Kuhl, applauded the appeal’s court ruling.

“Victims of childhood sexual abuse at age 18 and 19 do not draw the connection between what’s wrong in their lives and the sexual abuse [they endured],” Klest said. “I’ve probably consulted with 80 or 90 victims of childhood sexual abuse who were investigating whether there was anything they could do about it. Less than 10 of them were under the age of 28. For whatever reason, persons in their late 20s and early teens don’t deal with this or know how to deal with it.”