How the extension of the sex abuse statute of limitations is affecting New York and other states

Posted on Tuesday, October 15th, 2019 at 5:12 pm    

When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act (CVA) on February 14, 2019, the bill extended the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse. Claims that had not expired under the old limitations period after survivors turned 18 years of age now allowed survivors until they were 55 years of age to file claims, and claims which had expired now had a one-year extension that would begin six months after the governor signed the CVA.

USA Today reported on August 14, 2019, that 200 child sexual abuse lawsuits had already been filed by 5 a.m. the morning that the six-month mark finally arrived, and the total reached 385 claims by noon that day. According to USA Today, the “vast majority” of filings named Catholic priests as abusers and sought damages from the diocese and parishes where offenses allegedly occurred, but the Boy Scouts of America was also named in at least four suits and Rockefeller University was named in two.

A widespread impact…and it’s growing

On October 20, 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported that 22 states and Washington, D.C., had laws extending or eliminating the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims, and “almost every aspect” of liability insurance contracts could end up being disputed. The Journal noted that insurance companies have typically paid between 20 and 80 percent of settlements between churches and victims, but the potential cost of the new legal actions was challenging to estimate although analysts were projecting that it could potentially be billions of dollars.

The Journal also reported that the Diocese of Rochester had filed for bankruptcy on September 12, 2019, because of 46 lawsuits filed against it since the new limitations period window opened. Insurers that had set aside reserves to pay claims based on what they expect to pay later may have assumed that there would be no liability for claims after statutes of limitation had passed, but now the new laws could be forcing them to recalculate those reserves.

According to the Journal, CNA Financial Corp. filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Buffalo arguing that insurance policies one of its companies sold to the diocese several decades ago should not apply to current child-abuse claims. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York sued more than 30 insurance companies it believed would deny coverage, and Chubb Ltd. said it would not cover a claim when the archdiocese alerted one of a Chubb subsidiary about a sexual-abuse lawsuit.

The fight against new legislation continues

On October 2, 2019, USA Today published an investigation into tactics that the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts were using to try and lobby against extended child sexual abuse statutes of limitations. An analysis of legislation filed in all 50 states that were part of a two-year look at model legislation in partnership with the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity found that state lawmakers had tried at least 200 times since 2009 to extend the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases.

“Where legislation has been introduced, equally coordinated opposition has followed from the groups that stand to lose the most,” USA Today wrote.

Just as many bills that seek to revive previously barred lawsuits borrowed phrasing and language from similar measures in other states, USA Today reported that 10 church opposition statements that it ran through a language-processing algorithm to search for commonalities found that a Maryland statement shared key terms with a statement in California and terms from a 2018 statement in Georgia had overlap with a Wisconsin bishop’s statement nine years earlier. The 2018 Annual Report from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reported that dioceses and eparchies reported costs related to allegations paid out $239,172,851 between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018.

The Journal also noted that another important question in these cases is whether all claims about a single alleged abuser are considered one insurance claim or if each victim or instance of abuse counts as a separate “occurrence” under an insurance policy. Several policies have coverage limits and deductibles directly related to occurrences, such that a policyholder may be expected more for more occurrences.

The CVA allows victims to file lawsuits against private and public institutions that may have been involved in the abuse, and the CVA also removed the notice of claim that had been required in cases involving public entities. The extended limitations period will only be in effect until August 13, 2020, so it becomes even more critical for child sexual abuse victims to make sure that they can file lawsuits right now.

The New York Unified Court System website notes that the one-year window applies regardless of a victim’s age and how long ago the abuse occurred. You could file a claim even when it is too late under the old statute of limitations, even if you previously sued the abuser and had a case dismissed for waiting too long, and also if a notice of claim was never filed.

Help is available if you’ve been a victim

If you or your loved one has been the victim of sexual abuse at any time in New York City, now is the time for you to take action. Hach & Rose, LLP has more than 100 years of combined experience, and we will be committed to helping you get justice.

Our firm understands how difficult it can be for many people who have been victims of sexual abuse to revisit these kinds of traumatic experiences, and we will be sensitive in our discussions with you so can feel completely comfortable in working with us and trusting our firm to help you hold your abuser and all other responsible parties accountable. We can answer all of your legal questions when you call (212) 779-0057 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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