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New York Child Sexual Abuse Law Could Allow More Adult Victims to File Lawsuits

Mar 12, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

The New York state legislature could soon make it possible for many adult victims of child sexual abuse to file civil suits against their abusers, as well as any institution that enabled that abuse.  According to The New York Times, a law that would extend the deadline victims have for filing child abuse lawsuits could finally become law sometime this year.

The law - called the Child Victims Act - has been proposed before, but never passed.  According to The New York Times, Republicans in the state Senate had always been able to block the bill.  But, the Democrats now control the legislature.  What's more, the Times said Gov. David Paterson is a proponent of the act, and would likely sign it if it is passed.

Currently, the deadline for bringing such a lawsuit is 5 years after a victim turns 18. According to The New York Times, the Child Victims Act would give victims  a one-year exemption from the statute of limitations. Regardless of how long ago the alleged abuse occurred, they could file suit in civil court.  At the year’s end, time limits on such claims would be restored, but with a wider window: Instead of a five-year period after turning 18, victims would have 10 years to file claims, the Times said

As it is written now, the Child Victims Act would only apply to lawsuits filed against private institutions and individuals.  This is mainly because of legal protections granted under existing state law to all public workers and agencies.  According to the Times, critics of the act have argued that this unfairly discriminates against religious institutions and private schools.   But  proponents of the Child Victims Act have said that the disparity could be addressed in future legislation.

Those who support the bill are hoping to provide an avenue for victims of abuse some avenue of recourse.  According to The New York Times, the Child Victims Act was inspired by the clergy abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church over the past decade.  Critics of the Church have accused its hierarchy of enabling the abuse.    In some instances, abusive priests were allowed to torment children for decades.  Often, this occurred because those guilty of abuse were simply moved from parish to parish to keep  allegations quiet. When the abuse scandals surfaced, hundreds of victims in New York found they could not bring suit against the Church and its officials because of the statute of limitations.

According to The New York Times, several other states have passed similar laws.  Such a measure has allowed the adult victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy to win between $800 million to $1 billion in damages and settlements, the Times said.


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