At a time when the Association for Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) is calling for the time limit on child abuse claims to be abolished, Victoria Thackstone, specialist in dealing with claims for adults who have suffered abuse and negligent treatment by mental health professionals, considers the similarities of time limit issues within the cases she deals with.
In his letter published in the Association’s newsletter, President of the APIL, Sam Elsby, states: “It can take many years for someone who has suffered sexual abuse as a child to tell a soul about what happened, let alone consider either reporting the abuse to the police or contemplating a compensation claim.” Like those who have suffered this abuse, we too see that it can take a long time for survivors of professional and therapy abuse to be able to speak out about their own experience of what has happened.
In our experience, as with cases of child abuse, it can take the survivors of professional and therapy abuse a long period of time to feel able to disclose what they have been through. Often the abuse which is suffered is a continuous series of events which gradually blurs boundaries over time and there is a power imbalance in favour of the practitioner. From a psychological point of view, these factors make it very difficult for the survivors to be aware that the practitioner is doing anything wrong.
As with child abuse cases, the law currently states that civil claims against negligent treatment by mental health professionals must usually be issued in Court within three years of the events complained of, or three years from when the survivor “knew” something was wrong. This is known as the “limitation” period. If a claim isn’t issued at Court within the three-year limitation period, the claim may be statute-barred and be unable to proceed.
The Court does have a discretion to allow a claim to proceed ‘out of time’ and for the Court to exercise its discretion it will take into account all of the circumstances of why the claim is being brought outside of the required three-year period. It is our view that any delay is always for very understandable reasons, and we consider on a case-by-case basis if we believe the Court would be likely to exercise its discretion, giving our advice based on the law as it stands.
Whilst we do not anticipate that the law on limitation will change in relation to these cases any time soon, we will watch with great interest as to how calls for changes to the limitation period in child abuse law develops.
Victoria Thackstone is a Litigation Executive in the Therapy and Adult Abuse Department at Switalskis Solicitors and has over 15 years’ experience working in professional and therapy abuse law.