CONFESSIONAL TOLLING

The statutes of limitations are intended to prevent stale claims from being litigated. The idea is that stale claims are unfair to litigants because memories fade, witnesses die, and standards change. Such statutes are good policy. However, if a wrongdoer decides to hide the wrongdoing, and especially if the wrongdoer succeeds, then the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the victim or injured party knows or should have known through reasonable efforts. This is also a reasonable policy because the wrongdoing has not ended until the conspiracy of silence ends.

In Rice v Diocese of Altoona – Johnstown, 2019 PA Super 186, (PA Supp. 2019), the trial court reluctantly dismissed claims of fraud, constructive fraud and civil conspiracy because the alleged child molestation occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. The appellate court reversed holding that whether an alleged effort to hide the wrongdoing occurred, and thus prevented tolling of the statute of limitations, was a question of fact for the jury. The plaintiff alleged she discovered the alleged conspiracy to hide the molestation in grand jury testimony made public in 2016 and immediately filed suit. The plaintiff alleged the last act of the conspiracy was in 2016 revealed or further perpetuated in the grand jury testimony of 2016.

Limitations discovery rules are not new and the response to these types of rulings has been a more aggressive public disclosure of “credible accusations” by various denominations and churches. The risk of a defamation claim has been deemed less than further untolled limitations as to molestation claims. Confession may be both good for the soul and good litigation risk management.

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