Idaho Supreme Court considers detention sex abuse lawsuit

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FILE - In this June 8, 2017 file photo the Idaho Supreme Court building is seen in Boise, Idaho. The Idaho Supreme Court will decide soon if several adults who say they were sexually abused as kids at a juvenile detention center should have filed a tort claim against the state agency before they sued. (AP Photo/Rebecca Boone, File)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) The Idaho Supreme Court will decide soon if several adults who say they were sexually abused as children at a juvenile detention center should have filed a tort claim against the state agency before they sued.

The high court heard arguments Wednesday, weighing the state's tort claim law against a law that extended the amount of time survivors of childhood sex abuse have to sue their abusers.

The issue, for the seven people who brought the lawsuit and for adult survivors of sex abuse across the state, is one of timing: A law amended by the Legislature in 2007 gave child abuse victims the option to sue their perpetrators within five years of the time they discovered the abuse had injured or harmed their life in some way.

That is more than double the time the state sets for other kinds of lawsuits, many of which have to be filed within two years of an alleged injury.

But Idaho also has a long-standing tort claim law, which says in most cases people suing state employees or state government have to file a notice that they intend to sue 180 days from the date of the alleged injury, or from the date when it reasonably should have been discovered.

That creates a much shorter timeline for people who claim they were abused as children by state employees compared to people who say they were abused as children by private individuals.

Eric Rossman, the attorney representing the survivors, told the justices that applying the 180-day notice would render the Child Abuse Act basically useless. He said there is no indication that lawmakers wanted to exclude children abused by state employees from the legal remedies offered to children abused by private citizens.

"Literally every component of the Child Abuse Act is inconsistent with the language of the ITCA (Idaho Tort Claims Act)," Rossman said. "Every purpose behind the statute of limitations would be gutted by the requirement that someone file a tort claim within six months of when the act was committed, not when they discover a correlation."

But Micheal Elia, representing the juvenile corrections department, said essentially all statutes from wrongful death to malpractice require people to follow the rules of the tort claim act if they want to sue a government entity, and there's no legal reason sexual abuse claims should be treated differently.

He said tort claims give government agencies a chance to preserve evidence and investigate claims of wrongdoing. "If you're going to sue a government agency, you need to file a tort claim," he said.

The survivors are among at least 10 former detainees at the Idaho Department of Juvenile Correction detention center in Nampa to bring sex abuse allegations against the state. They contend they were sexually abused multiple times by staffers and that in some cases they were supplied with illicit drugs by a nurse at the detention center, and that facility officials knew of the abuse but failed to intervene.

One former employee was later convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor for sexually abusing a youth at the center. A former nurse was initially charged with sexually abusing teens at the center, but those charges were dismissed after she passed a lie-detector test requested by prosecutors.

The state Supreme Court is expected to issue a written ruling in the next few months.

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