RCW 4.16.340- Statute of Limitations for Childhood Sexual Abuse Damage Claims

In Washington state, RCW 4.16.340 describes the final deadline (“statute of limitations”) to start a lawsuit for damages caused by childhood sexual abuse. This statute reads as follows:

  1. All claims or causes of action based on intentional conduct brought by any person for recovery of damages for injury suffered as a result of childhood sexual abuse shall be commenced within the later of the following periods:
    • Within three years of the act alleged to have caused the injury or condition,
    • Within three years of the time the victim discovered or reasonably should have discovered that the injury or condition was caused by said act, or
    • Within three years of the time the victim discovered that the act caused the injury for which the claim is brought:

    PROVIDED, That the time limit for commencement of an action under this section is tolled for a child until the child reaches the age of eighteen years.

  2. The victim need not establish which act in a series of continuing sexual abuse or exploitation incidents caused the injury complained of, but may compute the date of discovery from the date of discovery of the last act by the same perpetrator which is part of a common scheme or plan of sexual abuse or exploitation.
  3. The knowledge of a custodial parent or guardian shall not be imputed to a person under the age of eighteen years.
  4. For purposes of this section, “child” means a person under the age of eighteen years.
  5. As used in this section, “childhood sexual abuse” means any act committed by the defendant against a complainant who was less than eighteen years of age at the time of the act and which act would have been a violation of chapter 9A.44 RCW or RCW 9.68A.040 or prior laws of similar effect at the time the act was committed.

Commentary and Legislative History:

The purpose of this statute is to toll the statute of limitations until the survivor of childhood abuse discovers the true cause and extent of injuries. Without such a statute, abusers would escape responsibility for the damage they cause long before most survivors could file suit. The legislature made its intent explicit in the findings which accompany the statute.

The legislature finds that:

  1. Childhood sexual abuse is a pervasive problem that affects the safety and well-being of many of our citizens.
  2. Childhood sexual abuse is a traumatic experience for the victim causing long-lasting damage.
  3. The victim of childhood sexual abuse may repress the memory of the abuse or be unable to connect the abuse to any injury until after the statute of limitations has run.
  4. The victim of childhood sexual abuse may be unable to understand or make the connection between childhood sexual abuse and emotional harm or damage until many years after the abuse occurs.
  5. Even though victims may be aware of injuries related to the childhood sexual abuse, more serious injuries may be discovered many years later.
  6. The legislature enacted RCW 4.16.340 to clarify the application of the discovery rule to childhood sexual abuse cases. At that time the legislature intended to reverse the Washington supreme court decision in Tyson v. Tyson, 107 Wn.2d 72, 727 P.2d 226 (1986).