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Judge's Ruling May Give New York Child Sex Abuse Victims a Way Around Statute of Limitations

Aug 30, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP

Some attorneys are saying that a judge's ruling in a New York child sexual abuse lawsuit  may have opened a window for victims of abuse that occurred long ago to file legal claims against their victimizers.   New York, noted The Wall Street Journal,  currently has the most stringent statute of limitation in the nation for filing civil lawsuits in cases of child sexual abuse, a fact which has denied justice to hundreds of victims.

Lobbyists fighting for the rights of sexual abuse survivors have long pushed to change New York's statute of limitations in such cases, which requires that victims of child sexual abuse file lawsuits by their 23rd birthday.  But last week, U.S. District Court Judge Frederic Block allowed a lawsuit that involved sexual abuse allegations that went back for decades to move forward. The case is against what The Journal described as an elite Brooklyn prep school—Poly Prep County Day School. Judge Block ruled on Tuesday that the statute did not automatically disqualify a case against the prep school despite that some of the allegations go as far back as 1966, nearly 50 years ago. Twelve alumni of the private school and its summer program allege  rape and abuse at the hands of then-respected football coach Philip Foglietta, said The  Journal. Foglietter, who died in 1998, worked at the school from 1966 for 25 years.

According to the plaintiffs, the statute of limitations is not applicable because Poly Prep was aware of the abuse, covered it up, and routinely and publicly praised Foglietta as an “upstanding member of the school, wrote The Journal. Because of this, the plaintiffs were not able to file their lawsuit as quickly as they would have liked.

Judge Block did dismiss some of the claims—for example, some, but not all, racketeering charges against the school—in his 40-page ruling; however he allowed much of the case to continue, The Journal noted. The racketeering charges, which relied on the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act RICO) was considered ground-breaking in the context of sexual abuse cases, noted The Journal, as was invocation of Title IX, which is typically used to provide parity for women’s sports programs. Title IX, explained The Journal, can be applicable in cases of abuse in which a predator singles out one gender of children to molest. Not unexpectedly, Poly Prep officials minimized the decision. The school "believes the claims will ultimately be dismissed following a hearing," said spokesman Malcolm Farley. "We are still hopeful that the case may be settled."

At least one attorney told the Journal that Judge Block's ruling prompted him to start is reviewing about 300 child sex abuse claims that he thought would be time-barred.  He described the ruling  as “the best news out of a court for the victims of sexual abuse this year, and probably in a number of years," according to The Journal.

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