In 2019, Arizona became one of over a dozen states that have enhanced the rights of childhood sexual abuse survivors. Arizona's law (HB 2466) gives survivors ("plaintiffs") more time to sue their abusers and the people and institutions that failed to prevent or stop the abuse ("defendants") in civil court.
A statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline for filing civil lawsuits or criminal charges. Each state sets its own deadlines for different types of cases. Statutes of limitation are supposed to keep things fair by having cases heard in court while memories are fresh and evidence and witnesses are still available.
But research on child sex abuse has shown that survivors of child sex abuse commonly wait for years, often decades, to tell others that they've been victims of abuse. Starting in 2002, lawmakers in some states have extended or suspended statutes of limitation in child sexual abuse cases so that survivors who delay in disclosing abuse can still sue their alleged abusers and the institutions where their abusers worked.
Learn more about filing a lawsuit over abuse that happened a long time ago.
Arizona's old statute of limitations gave victims of sexual abuse until the age of 20 to file a civil suit. In practice, this was only a two-year statute of limitations, since people who are under 18 years old typically can't file a lawsuit against another person or entity.
Childhood survivors of sexual abuse now have until the age of 30 (up from 20) to file a lawsuit over childhood sexual abuse, thanks to HB 2466. HB 2466 also allows survivors to file lawsuits against mandatory reporters (like teachers, doctors, and social workers) who fail to report suspected sexual abuse.
In April 2022, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld HB 2466, rejecting an appeal filed by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and its affiliates.
A "lookback window" is a period of time during which survivors can file a lawsuit no matter how long ago the alleged abuse took place. HB 2466 included a lookback window that closed on December 31, 2020. Survivors who brought lawsuits during the lookback window faced procedural hurdles like a higher burden of proof and limits on damages.
Arizona's extended statute of limitations applies to cases brought against abusers as well as institutions that failed to protect survivors from sexual abuse. For example, survivors have filed lawsuits against religious organizations and youth groups like the Boy Scouts of America who knew or should have known about acts of sexual abuse carried out by their employees or volunteers.
Survivors can't recover punitive damages in lawsuits against institutions. And, instead of having to meet the typical "preponderance of the evidence" burden of proof, survivors have to meet the higher "clear and convincing evidence" burden of proof in cases brought against a person who was not the direct perpetrator of the abuse.
This change in the burden of proof and recoverable damages was a compromise designed to protect people and institutions from false accusations and decades-old allegations that might be difficult to defend.
HB 2466 doesn't affect the criminal statute of limitations for sex abuse of minors in Arizona. Depending on the age of the survivor when the abuse takes place, the relationship between the survivor and the abuser, and the severity of the sexual abuse, the criminal statute limitations in Arizona could be as short as seven years. But more serious sex crimes have no time limit to bring criminal charges. Learn more about pressing charges over childhood sexual abuse.
For general information on assistance for survivors of sexual abuse, see Survivor Resources: Taking Action After Sexual Abuse. You can also check out resources in your state like Southern Arizona Against Sexual Assault and the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.