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Statute of Limitations for Domestic Violence
by April E. Oliver, Esq. - The Reape - Rickett Law Firm

Traditionally, the statute of limitations for assault and battery claims bars litigants from seeking relief for claims that occurred more than three years prior to the filing of the lawsuit. Under this statute of limitations, multiple incidents of assault or battery have been considered as individual incidents, each with their own statute of limitations. Recently, in Pugliese v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, the Court of Appeal examined the statute of limitations as it relates to multiple incidents of assault and battery that occur within the context of domestic violence.

Michele Pugliese sued her ex-husband Dante Pugliese for assault and battery that had occurred over the course of their fifteen year marriage. Dante asked the Court to exclude all references to acts of domestic violence which occurred three years prior to the date Michele filed her suit. The Court of Appeal determined that domestic violence litigants are entitled to seek recovery for all acts of domestic abuse occurring during the relationship, so long as there was a continuing course of abuse and thus those prior acts of domestic violence which occurred more than three years before Michele filed her suit were not bared by the statute of limitations.

The Court determined that Dante was correct in asserting that where assault and battery occurs between nondomestic partners the statute of limitations starts to run at the time each individual incident occurs. But because the assault and battery alleged by Michele were acts of domestic violence, any lawsuit alleging assault and battery must be brought within three years from the last act of domestic violence, thus in domestic violence situations the incidents are considered as a whole and not considered to be individual incidents, each with their own statute of limitations, as they are in situations of assault and battery that are between nondomestic partners.

In holding that those acts of assault and battery committed by Dante more than three years prior to Michele’s filing of her suit, the Court quoted the legislature to show the intent behind this distinction, "Acts of violence occurring in a domestic context are increasingly widespread. These acts merit special consideration ... because the elements of trust, physical proximity, and emotional intimacy necessary to domestic relationships in a healthy society make participants in those relationship particularly vulnerable to physical attack by their partners. It is the purpose of this [distinction] to enhance the civil remedies available to victims of domestic violence in order to underscore society’s condemnation of these acts, to ensure complete recovery to victims, and to impose significant financial consequences upon perpetrators."

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