The Idaho Supreme Court decided an interesting case in which the Boy Scouts of America sought to dismiss a case brought by sex abuse victims who had not proceeded with their cases until they were adults. Generally, Idaho civil law contains a statute of limitations that ends liability for civil cases after some number of years. For example – if you are in an automobile accident and have a claim for negligence, the law says that you must sue within two years of the date of the injury or your claim goes away, forever. The injury may remain but your ability to collect from the persons who hurt you is eliminated. So you always have to make sure that you get that case filed within the statute of limitations.

In Morgan v. Boy Scouts of America, district court judge Michael McLaughlin ruled that the statute of limitations did not bar a civil action brought by three former Boy Scouts for sexual abuse they contend occurred in 1979 and 1982. Plaintiffs filed their cases in 2007, relying on title 6, chapter 17 of the Idaho Code, which provides a statutory cause of action for sex abuse victims. In July of 2007 an amendment to the law permitted the filing of a case “within five (5) years of the time the child discovers or reasonably should have discovered the act, abuse or exploitation and its causal relationship to an injury or condition suffered by the child, which ever occurs later.” I.C. § 6-1704. Based on the "discovery" part of the statute, child sex abuse victims in Idaho have a far greater time in which to bring their case for damages they incurred as a result of the abuse. 

Rather than just changing the statute of limitations, the Idaho Supreme Court recognized that the provisions of § 6-1701 and its amendments was the creation of a new cause of action, with greater rights than provided at common law. The legislature has created a civil cause of action for crime victims, but that statute is not applied retroactively.

"Because the scope of liability imposed under Idaho Code title 6, chapter 17 substantially differs from that available under the common law, the statutory scheme cannot be retroactively applied. “A statute will not be given a retroactive construction by which it will impose liabilities not existing at the time of its passage.” Ford v. City of Caldwell, 79 Idaho 499, 509, 321 P.2d 589, 594 (1958). While procedural and remedial statutes can be given retroactive effect, a statute that creates a right to damages where none previously existed cannot be considered to be remedial. State ex rel. Wasden v. Daicel Chem. Indus., 141 Idaho 102, 106, 106 P.3d 428, 432 (2005). Damages and punishments are substantive law. Id. Consequently, regardless of when the Does’ cause of action would have accrued under the amended statutory scheme, the statute cannot be applied to the conduct that gave rise to the cause of action because it occurred between 1979 and 1983, at least six years before the statute was enacted. Thus, the BSA cannot be held accountable for behavior that was not actionable at the time it occurred."

Bottom line – the case goes back to the district court, which had refused to dismiss the case. And the abuse victims are left without the one thing the legislature intended to create, a right to seek a remedy in court. But this decision is consistent with the law cited by the court and other cases which have held likewise. This time we are reminded as lawyers and persons with potential cases that we must act – not wait.

Protect your rights in any civil case and move sooner rather than later to protect your rights. Don’t wait – move. 

If you have been injured you need to pay attention to the limitations placed on every case. Not simply the statute of limitations (START there), but also the underlying legal precedent in that area of the law.