Can an adult sue their parents for neglect/abuse?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Can an adult sue their parents for neglect/abuse?

My mom was abused and neglected starting from a young age. Her mother would starve her when she was a toddler. She wouldn’t let her leave the house or have friends until she moved out. She made my mom and her four siblings bathe in the same bath water once a week. My mom suffered physical and psychological abuse, as well as sexual abuse from her mother’s side of the family. My uncle is a hermit and he and one of my aunts are battling bipolar mania. My other aunt has stockholm syndrome. This was some serious abuse… My mom now has all of the symptoms of a woman who went through severe childhood trauma- hypertension, depression, anxiety, diabetes, speech impairment, impulse behavior… the bills are piling up. She’s a really good person, and I hate to see her lose her health because something so awful happened to her… Can she sue her mother for the cost of her medical bills? The last occurrence of abuse was maybe 40 years ago in New York. I know it’s a long shot, but she’s still suffering from this. Isn’t there something that can be done?

Asked on January 14, 2017 under Personal Injury, Virginia


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Your question indicates the state in question is Virginia. You also reference New York as another state. If so, your mother is long past when she could sue.
In Virginia, the lawsuit would have to be brought within 20 years of her 18th birthday, or by the time she is 38, for sexual abuse suffered as a child.  A suit for other injuries or non-sexual abuse inflicted on her as a child would have to have been brought more or less by the time she was 20, or around 2 years after becoming a legal adult (the time period has been made longer for sexual abuse).
In New York, the time period is shorter--while there are several different "statute of limitations" (or time periods within which to sue) which may be implicated, it looks like the longest time she had would have been about 5 years after she turned 18.
When abuse was "40 years ago," it is too old for legal action.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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