Exception to Statute of Limitations in Florida Sexual Abuse Cases Only Applies to Intentional Torts

The Third District of Florida Court of Appeal recently affirmed a trial court’s ruling for Temple Beth Sholom in a sexual assault lawsuit. Plaintiff Joyce Firestone sought review after the trial court held that her claims against the Temple were filed after the statute of limitations had lapsed.

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In the early 1970s when she was a minor student at Temple Beth Sholom (the Temple), Firestone was sexually assaulted by Barak Yaron, a teacher employed by the Temple. Firestone sued the Temple approximately 40 years later in 2013. Her claim was based on two primary theories:  (1) the Temple was vicariously liable for Yaron’s actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior; and (2) the Temple violated its fiduciary duty to Firestone.

These types of tort claims are typically subject to a four-year statute of limitations. Firestone’s complaint argued, however, that the delay in filing the claim was due to the traumatic nature of the abuse, which caused her to experience repressed memory syndrome. Firestone asserted that she had no memory of the abuse until 2009, when the memory resurfaced.

Firestone argued that the circumstances of her repressed memory syndrome brought her claim within the provisions of section 95.11(7) of Florida’s Statutes, which provides that the statute of limitations for certain claims of sexual abuse is tolled to “4 years from the time of discovery by the injured party of both the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the abuse.”

According to the plain language of the statute, however, the  tolling is limited to “intentional torts.” Firestone’s theory of liability was not that the Temple committed an intentional tort, but rather that the Temple was either vicariously liable or breached its fiduciary duty.

The court has previously noted that “the legislature has not extended the limitations period to causes of action other than intentional torts” and that to extend 95.11(7) as such “is a matter for legislative consideration.” For this reason, the appeals court held that trial court correctly found that Firestone’s claim did not fall within 95.11(7).

Firestone next argued that her claim fell within the provisions of Florida Statutes section 95.11(9), which provides that a sexual battery involving a victim under 16 “may be commenced at any time.” However, the statute expressly indicates that the subsection does not apply to actions that would have been time barred on or before July 1, 2010. Since Firestone’s action would have been time barred before July 1, 2010, her claim did not fall within this statute. The court of appeal therefore held the trial court ruled correctly and affirmed the judgment in favor of the Temple.

If you were sexually abused, you should contact a dedicated personal injury attorney as soon as you are able.  To discuss your right to recover damages with a hardworking South Florida personal injury lawyer, call the experienced advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website today.

Additional Resources:

Firestone v. Temple Beth Sholom, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 3rd Dist. 2016

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