Colorado's Legal Options for Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivors

Colorado has expanded sexual abuse survivors' lawsuit-filing rights, alongside the opening of a temporary filing window to address decades-old abuse.

By , J.D.

In 2021, Colorado joined the ranks of states that have expanded the rights of survivors of childhood sexual abuse and assault, effectively eliminating time limits for filing a civil lawsuit over this kind of harm. And in 2022, a temporary "lookback window" opened, allowing the filing of a lawsuit over childhood sexual abuse that might have been previously barred by filing deadlines.

Colorado Removes Statute of Limitations for Most Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

It often takes a significant amount of time for a survivor of sexual abuse to come to terms with what happened and process the resulting trauma. That's especially true when the abuse happened while the survivor was a child. But meanwhile, laws called statutes of limitations set a firm deadline on the right to take a case to court. Miss the filing deadline set by these laws, and the option to sue is lost.

A number of states have recognized the unique nature of childhood sexual abuse lawsuits, and have taken steps to reform (or repeal) the statute of limitations that applies to these kinds of cases. (Learn more about suing over sexual abuse that happened a long time ago.)

In April 2021, Colorado Governor Jared S. Polis signed into law Senate Bill 21-073, which effectively eliminates the "statute of limitations" for civil lawsuits seeking a legal remedy for harm stemming from sexual abuse, as long as the underlying act of abuse meets a criminality threshold (as most do).

As of January 1, 2022 (when the law took effect), there is no Colorado statute of limitations for civil lawsuits arising over most acts of sexual abuse. In other words, anyone who experiences sexual abuse (as a minor or as an adult) can file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator—and/or against employers or institutions (like churches and other organizations) that failed to prevent the abuse, or took steps to cover it up—without worrying about any time limit on the right to seek justice from Colorado's civil court system.

Prior to passage of Senate Bill 21-073, anyone wanting to file a civil lawsuit over harm caused by sexual abuse in Colorado typically needed to do so within six years of the abuse, or within six years of their 18th birthday.

Read the full text of Colorado's Senate Bill 21-073.

(Note: There is no statute of limitations time limit for pressing criminal charges over sexual abuse in Colorado.)

Colorado Creates Three-Year "Lookback Window" for Sex Abuse Lawsuits

More changes came in July 2021, when Colorado lawmakers established a three-year window during which almost any sexual abuse lawsuit can be filed, even when the abuse took place as far back as January 1, 1960. This "lookback window" essentially revives the lawsuit-filing rights of survivors whose opportunity to sue their abusers (and any institution that covered up or failed to prevent the abuse) had been lost due to an expired statute of limitations filing deadline.

Colorado's three-year filing window opened on January 1, 2022, and will remain open to abuse survivors through December 31, 2024. The fine print of this law includes a number of exceptions and limitations, like various caps on "damages" or monetary awards in certain situations, such as when the defendant is a public entity, like a school district or other government organization. Read the full text of Colorado Senate Bill 21-088.

It should be noted that the constitutionality of this legislative lookback window has already been called into question, so a legal challenge is likely.

Resources for Colorado Sexual Abuse Survivors

The Colorado Attorney General's Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse portal has an online abuse reporting system, and details on a compensation program that might be available to survivors of abuse by Catholic clergy in Colorado. More on the spectrum of help available to sexual abuse survivors can be found on our Survivor Resources: Taking Action After Sexual Abuse page.

For details on how the legislative changes we've discussed in this article might affect your options, you can connect with a Colorado attorney near you using the chat tools on this page. Or just learn more about finding the right attorney for you, and how a lawyer can help.

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