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New York Child Victims Act Moves Forward

Mar 19, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP The New York Child Victims Act is now closer to becoming law.  The act, which would extend the statute of limitations for filing child sex abuse lawsuits, was approved by the New York Assembly Codes Committee on Tuesday.  The New York Child Victims Act now moves on to the full Assembly, although a vote is not expected for several weeks.

The impetus for the Child Victims Act was the Roman Catholic Church child sexual abuse scandal that has rocked New York, as well as much of the country, over the past decade.  Because of the current statute of limitations, hundreds of claims filed in recent years against Catholic priests and dioceses in New York have been dismissed.

Currently, the deadline for bringing such a lawsuit  in New York is 5 years after a victim turns 18.  As we reported earlier this month, 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 Child Victims Act has been proposed before, but never passed. According to a report in 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.

According to a report on The National Law Journal website, the Codes Committee passed the Child Victims Act by a margin of 11-8.  An alternate measure, which was supported by religious institutions, including the Catholic Church, was defeated by the same margin.  The alternate would have extended to 25 the age until which childhood sex abuse victims can file civil suits, the Law Journal said.  However, it did not provide any relief to victims whose claims now exceed the statute of limitations.

Both the Catholic Church and some Orthodox Jewish groups oppose the Child Victims Act.  According to the Law Journal, the Church argues that it would allow lawsuits for decades-old claims that would be impossible to defend.  

Supporters of the alternative also claim it closes a loophole in the Child Victims Act  by allowing suits based on the sexual abuse of children in schools, housing complexes and other public accommodations, the Law Journal said.  They claim legal protections granted under existing state law to all public workers and agencies would bar such lawsuits. But advocates of the Child Victims Act say the legislation does allow those types of claims.

Some other states have already adopted laws similar to the New York Child Victims Act.  In California alone, 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.

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