AB2777 Secures 10 Year Statute of Limitations for Adult Victims of Sexual Assault; Recognizes Power Imbalance that Silences Victims

ADZ Law, LLP worked with other sexual assault attorneys and advocates to enact legislation that addresses the difficulties that sexual assault survivors experience in coming forward and creates a window of opportunity for those survivors to seek justice in the civil arena.  

On January 1, 2019, Code of Civil Procedure §340.16 California initiated a 10-year statute of limitations for adult survivors of sexual assault. Meaning that survivors had 10 years to file a civil claim from the date of the abuse, or 3 years from the date they discovered an injury or illness which resulted from that abuse. This was a substantial shift from previous law, which did not acknowledge the myriad of challenges that survivors experience in processing their experience and choosing to hold their abusers accountable. Instead, victims were previously held to the general statutes of limitations for battery, which is 2 years[1], or domestic violence, which is 3 years.[2]   

CCP 340.16 was a huge step forward in recognizing the impact of sexual abuse and providing access to justice.  However, the enactment of that statute also brought with it many questions and legal disagreements about whether it was meant to apply retroactively, whether it contained “revival” language[3], or whether it created a new cause of action. These varied interpretations resulted in unequal application of the statute and conflicting court rulings. While some challenges worked their way through the Court of Appeals, advocates set out on a legislative fix.   

The legislative history of the original AB 1619[4] highlighted the need for a longer period of time in which a survivor can pursue civil recovery. “The current two-year statute of limitations simply does not provide sexual assault survivors adequate time to heal from the physical and emotional trauma of a sexual assault and prepare for a civil case.”[5] Further, “the emotional trauma following sexual assault does not present the same in all survivors and may lead to a delay in seeking medical or legal assistance. The time a survivor needs to process and recover from their assault, enough to engage with the legal system, can take months and even years, certainly longer than the two years currently allowable for many survivors to seek civil restitution.”[6]

Nevertheless, a legislative correction was needed to ensure that adult survivors of assault dating back to January 1, 2009 could access justice. ADZ Law and TLO-law partnered together to make this change. Assembly Member Buffy Wicks sponsored AB 2777. It was important to the attorney advocates that the bill be represented by the true survivors and victims’ advocates in the field. To that end, California Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners, Valor US, Equal Rights Advocates, Family Violence Appellate Project, California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, and Rape Trauma Services all signed on in support. 

The bill received support from both Democratic and Republican legislators and was signed by Governor Newsom on September 19, 2022. The resulting legislation is known as the Sexual Abuse and Cover Up Accountability Act[7] which addresses and clarifies the 10-year statute of limitations under CCP 340.16. As of January 1, 2023 CCP 340.16 will clearly outline that the 10-year statue of limitations applies retroactively to sexual assaults that occurred before the statute was first enacted on January 1, 2019.  The amended statute also provides for a 3-year window, until December 31, 2026, wherein survivors can file their civil claims for sexual assaults that occurred on or after January 1, 2009.  

A second facet of the bill provides accountability for entities who tried to cover up occurrences of sexual assault, who, through their own negligence, intentional acts, or vicarious liability, are responsible for a sexual assault and then covered it up, meaning, actively hid evidence to keep the assault secret. This could be an employer, a corporation, or other entity in a position of power over the victim. The amended 340.16 also carves out a 1-year window, until December 1, 2023, for survivors to file a claim that would otherwise be time barred, regardless of when the assault occurred.  

Both time-constrained windows do not apply to cases that have been settled or litigated to final decision. 

[1] Code of Civ. Proc. §335.1

[2] Code of Civ. Proc. §340.15

[3] see Quarry v. Doe I (2012) 53 Cal.4th 945

[4] 2018 Cal. Legis. Serv. Ch. 939 (A.B. 1619)

[5] California Bill Analysis, Assembly Committee, 2017-2018 Regular Session, Assembly Bill 1619, CA B. An., A.B. 1619 Assem., 8/28/2018

[6] Id.

[7] 2022 Cal. Legis. Serv. Ch. 442 (A.B. 2777)