September 21, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: “Legal Disability” Means Inability to Bring Lawsuit Due to Some Policy of Law

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in T.D. v. Wiseman on Thursday, August 10, 2017.

“Legal Disability” for Tolling Statute of Limitations—C.R.S. § 13-80-103.7(3.5)(a).

T.D.’s complaint alleged she had endured 10 years of sexual and physical abuse from defendant, her former stepfather. She alleged that she was 7 years old when the abuse began and that it continued until about 1990, when she was in high school. She alleged that the abuse caused her to become dependent on drugs and alcohol, and she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological disorders, self-mutilation, eating disorders, depression, and a cycle of abusive relationships.

In August 2005, T.D. disclosed defendant’s alleged abuse to the doctors who had been treating her. She attempted suicide in 2012. Thereafter she was able to maintain sobriety. T.D. filed a lawsuit in 2015 asserting assault, battery, sexual assault and battery, extreme and outrageous conduct, and false imprisonment. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that T.D.’s claims had accrued in 2005 when she disclosed the alleged abuse to her doctors. Consequently, her claims were time-barred by the six-year statute of limitations in C.R.S. § 13-80-103.7(1). T.D. argued that the record contained genuine issues of material fact concerning whether she had been a “person under disability” until 2012 because of her addictions and psychiatric disorder, so the statute would have been tolled until her disability was lifted. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, finding no genuine issues of material fact in the record about when her claims accrued or whether the statute of limitations barred those claims.

The court of appeals determined that the issue of when the claim accrued was not properly before it, and assumed it accrued at the latest in 2005. The court then considered whether there was a factual dispute about whether the applicable statute of limitations was tolled because T.D. was a “person under disability.” Under C.R.S. 13-80-103.75(3.5)(a), a “person under disability” is a person who is (1) a minor under 18 (2) “declared mentally incompetent”; (3) “under other legal disability and who does not have a legal guardian”; or (4) “in a special relationship with the perpetrator of the assault” and “psychologically or emotionally unable to acknowledge the assault or offense and the resulting harm.” T.D. was 43 when the trial court granted the summary judgment motion, so she was not a minor from 2005 to 2011, when the statute of limitations was running. The record did not contain disputed facts about whether she was mentally incompetent during the years during which the statute of limitations ran. The court concluded that “legal disability” denotes an inability to bring a lawsuit based on a “policy of the law.” No facts in the record indicated that T.D. lacked the power to timely bring her suit. Lastly, while a familial relationship can constitute a “special relationship,” T.D. did not demonstrate that she was “psychologically or emotionally unable to acknowledge the assault or offense and the resulting harm.”

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.