Child sex abuse victims have new legal remedies in several states

National uproar over the unfairness of adults who were victims of sexual abuse in childhood being unable to file civil lawsuits is making a difference.

As the light is increasingly shining on more situations in which children and others have been the victims of sexual predators, many state governments are responding by passing laws making it possible for more victims to file civil lawsuits for damages for the harm inflicted upon them. In many states, adult victims have run up against legal filing deadlines called statutes of limitation, or SOL, that expired before they were able or ready to take legal action against their perpetrators – both against individuals and when appropriate, against the institutions that employed the wrongdoers and allowed the abuse to occur.

In response, several state legislatures have changed their laws to reopen the right to sue in this situation to older victims. According to CHILD USA, in 2019, 24 states reformed their civil or criminal SOL laws, a significant spike over every year since 2002.

For example, we recently published an article about New Jersey legislation that opened a two-year window on Dec. 1, 2019 that will end on Nov. 30, 2021, during which people who had missed their filing deadlines will be allowed to file their lawsuits. We explained that the New Jersey law is expected to draw many suits against the Boy Scouts of America, headquartered in New Brunswick in New Jersey’s Middlesex County.

After the two-year filing window closes, a more generous SOL will take effect, letting adult victims of childhood abuse to file civil suits until they are 55 or until seven years after they begin to experience related psychological issues.

Similarly, New York established a one-year window for filing otherwise untimely child sex abuse lawsuits that began on August 14, 2019. It also extended the time for filing one of these suits from a victim’s age of 23 to age 55.

We published an article in 2019 in which we discussed the monumental Pennsylvania grand jury report about a comprehensive investigation into child sex abuse in six of the commonwealth’s Catholic dioceses. As we explained, advocates have been upset about a lack of legislative action in Pennsylvania to expand the rights of victims to sue. But in the fall of 2019, legislators passed, and Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation addressing the problem, in part.

As NPR reported, the new law will allow childhood sex abuse victims until they turn 55 – up from 30 – to file civil lawsuits, among other provisions. The legislature, however, failed to create a window of time (like New Jersey and New York) within which those who had missed their filing deadlines in the past could file lawsuits.

Whether a person can file a lawsuit is a complex legal question with several components, including the statute of limitations that applies as well as identification of potentially responsible parties and jurisdictions where the victim could file suit. For these reasons, anyone who was the victim of child sex abuse should speak with an experienced attorney about what legal remedies may be available to them.

The lawyers at Andreozzi + Foote with offices in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, and Arizona advocate for the victims of childhood abuse in civil lawsuits across the nation.

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