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State Bill Could End Statute of Limitations In Civil Lawsuits

Aug 21, 2003 | AP

Victims of sexual abuse in Michigan could soon be able to pursue damages against the perpetrators, even if the crimes were committed beyond the current statute of limitations.

Rep. Stephen Ehardt, R-Lexington, is scheduled next month to unveil a package of bills that would make Michigan the first state to abolish the time frame for filing civil lawsuits stemming from sexual abuse of minors.

The bills, prompted by allegations against Catholic priests, also propose removing the future time limits for filing criminal cases on sexual conduct with a minor.

Previous criminal cases would still be subject to time limits.

"Eliminating the statute of limitations is the absolute single most effective move a state can make toward preventing abuse," David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, told The Detroit News for a Thursday story.

"All across the country, where perpetrators can be criminally charged and supervisors can be civilly sued is where institutions take abuse prevention seriously and respond sensitively when a victim comes forward."

California and Connecticut have changed their statute of limitations for civil lawsuits stemming from sexual abuse of minors. Those changes are not nearly as drastic as the proposal in Michigan.

Paul Long of the Michigan Catholic Conference declined to comment on the bills until he had seen them.

Currently, the statute of limitations for civil suits ends when a victim reaches 19.

In 2001, lawmakers eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for first degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor.

The time frame for other sex crimes against a minor is 10 years after the incident of the victim's 21st birthday, whichever is longer.

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