Association of British Insurers calls for review on limitation for child sexual abuse claims

July 17, 2019

Posted by: Beth Hey


In a surprising but welcomed submission to the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), the Association of British Insurers (ABI) have made a complete U-turn on their position towards legal time limits for bringing a claim for child sexual abuse.  The letter, signed by ABI Director General Huw Evans, sets out that laws governing the time limit for bringing a claim for child sexual abuse should be reviewed in favour of survivors.

The current law for bringing claim for child sexual abuse is set out in the Limitation Act 1980, which says that the survivor must bring their claim either within 3 years of their 18th birthday, or within three years of them first becoming aware they have suffered an injury at the hands of another person.

Whilst the courts are able to waive this time limit, it is at their discretion and they will only do so where it is seen as “fair” for all parties. It is for the survivor to show that this is the case.  This means a further obstacle for survivors to overcome in order to claim the compensation they are owed.  Having listened to survivors’ accounts given to IICSA, the ABI say that the current law has a significant deterrent effect on survivors bringing claims.

Who are the ABI and why are they supporting a review of the law?

The ABI are a trade association representing 250 insurance companies in the UK.  They issue codes of conduct and regulate practice.  They have an interest in the law surrounding child sexual abuse claims, as many of those abused in childhood are able to sue the employer of their abuser, who may have had public liability insurance.

The ABI have previously taken a very different view on the law of limitation, supporting the view that no change to the law was necessary, even for survivors of child sexual abuse.  The justification for this stance was that the current law allows for courts to overrule the time limit.  Their change of heart comes in light of numerous accounts given by survivors to IICSA, who report having been discouraged from claiming compensation because of the time limit.

If the law on limitation was altered in favour of those claiming, this would allow a proportion of survivors to succeed in claiming compensation and would inevitably leave insurers out of pocket.  So why are the ABI supporting a change? In their submission, they highlight three key points:

  1. The role of insurance is not to defend abuse
  2. Current policies were not written with child abuse in mind
  3. A significant portion of claims for compensation for child sexual abuse are not covered by insurers

It is not clear at this stage how much impact the ABI’s recommendations will have on the outcome of the inquiry.  However, it is reassuring to know that the ABI are looking to uphold a system of claiming compensation that is fair and just for all. 

How could a review of the law help survivors of child sexual abuse?

Under the current law, the court will look at a number of factors in deciding whether it is fair for a claimant to bring their claim outside of the limitation period. These factors include:

  1. How much evidence is still available
  2. Whether the abuser has been convicted
  3. What the length of the delay is
  4. What the reasons for the delay are

At Bolt Burdon Kemp we represent many claimants bringing their claims outside the limitation period and we have achieved a great deal of success in doing so.  But clearing these hurdles can be daunting for a survivor and can often make them feel as though they are not believed.

Survivors of child sexual abuse typically find it difficult to speak about the abuse they have suffered; sometimes not feeling able to tell anyone for many years.  This often means it takes them much longer to bring a claim than other types of claimants, for instance those injured in a road traffic accident.  Forcing survivors to explain and justify the reasons for the delay in bringing their claim for abuse is unfair and disheartening.

Whilst a reform of the law in relation to child sexual abuse claims is unlikely to mean that limitation is not an issue at all, it may shift the burden of proving whether it is fair to bring a claim from the claimant to the defendant.  This approach is already taken in many other countries, including Scotland and Australia.  The law in Scotland automatically disapplies the time limit, unless a defendant can prove that it is not possible to have a fair trial.  This is the approach that is supported by the ABI in their submission to IICSA.

Whilst important in ensuring a just outcome for survivors of child sexual abuse, the litigation process is complex and stressful for claimants.  At Bolt Burdon Kemp we strive to make this process as swift and stress free as possible for our clients.  A reform of the law surrounding limitation could make the claims process quicker and easier for claimants.

In the absence of any reforms, we will continue to fight for our clients’ rights and the compensation they are owed.  Regardless of the time that has passed, we strongly encourage survivors of child sexual abuse to contact our team of specialist solicitors to explore the options available to them.

Bethany Hey is a solicitor in the Abuse team at Bolt Burdon Kemp.  If you feel you may have a claim or are enquiring on behalf of a loved one, contact Beth free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4872 or at bethanyhey@boltburdonkemp.co.uk.  Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Abuse team will contact you.  Find out more about the Abuse team.

Posted by: Beth Hey

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