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Statute of Limitation Thwarts Sex-Abuse Claim

A former parochial school student who was sexually abused by a teacher cannot proceed with a lawsuit because a Nebraska state statute prevents the filing of claims after a specific time period.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that, although there was enough evidence to find that T. Mark Kraft was sexually abused by teacher Arlen Meyer in the 1970s, Kraft waited too long to file suit, a step he took after concluding that the abuse led to emotional and psychological injury he had been suffering.

According to the opinion, Kraft filed his lawsuit in 2002, seeking damages from his former school, St. John Lutheran in Seward, Neb.; Meyer; and the estate of the school’s former principal, David Mannigel. Mannigel committed suicide in 2001. The evidence in the case suggested that Mannigel also had sexually abused children.

The court, in its opinion, noted that the Nebraska statute of limitations of four years is tolled (doesn’t start running until minors reach the age of 21) and may also be tolled in cases where a victim fails to connect abuse to injury or has repressed the memory of abuse. The court found that as early as 1990 Kraft attributed his mental problems and aberrant behavior to sexual abuse by Meyer over a three-year period while he was a student at St. John Lutheran. There was no evidence in the case that he had repressed his memory of the abuse.

Kraft, however, contended that he didn’t realize the abuse had injured him until he was diagnosed by a psychologist who had been recommended by his attorney. The psychologist, among other things, diagnosed Kraft as having moderate to severe post-traumatic distress disorder as a result of the sexual abuse. And although that psychologist claimed that Kraft failed to associate the abuse to his mental injuries until their 2001 meeting, the court found Kraft’s claim to be disingenuous because of contradictory evidence.

The court concluded that Kraft should have brought a claim within four years of discovering that Meyer’s abuse caused his injuries, consistent with the Nebraska statute of limitations. Accordingly, the court ruled that, because the evidence showed the statute of limitations expired in the mid-1990s and the claim wasn’t brought until 2001, Kraft was barred from bringing a claim against any of the parties named in the suit.

See Kraft v. St. John Lutheran Church, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 14426.

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