Delayed Discovery Principles to Lawsuits Alleging Child Molestation in California

Evans v. Eckelman (1990) 216 Cal.App.3d 1609, was a case where the adult plaintiffs sued their uncle and former foster father for sexual abuse they suffered in their childhood. (Id. at p. 1612.) They claimed that "'psychological blocking mechanisms'" such as fear, internalized shame, disassociation and repression caused them to be unaware, for decades, of both the sexual abuses and the psychological injuries they caused. (Id. at p. 1613.) The Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division Five, applied the common law "delayed accrual" doctrine applicable to fiduciary relationships to hold the complaint sufficient to withstand a demurrer based on the statute of limitations. (Id. at pp. 1614-1616.) "We conclude that the purposes of the statute of limitations and the rationale of the delayed discovery rule as it has developed in our courts require that accrual of a cause of action for child sexual abuse by a parent or similar figure of authority be delayed until the plaintiff knows or reasonably should know of the cause of action." (Id. at p. 1617.) Evans was decided in early 1990, at a time when section 340.1 expressly gave courts permission to apply equitable delayed discovery principles to lawsuits alleging child molestation. Former subdivision (d) of the statute then stated: "'Nothing in this bill is intended to preclude the courts from applying delayed discovery exceptions to the accrual of a cause of action for sexual molestation of a minor.'" (Evans, supra, 216 Cal.App.3d at p. 1614.) Evans quoted that section and relied on it as a legislative imprimatur for its decision. (Ibid.)