Posted on Monday, December 23rd, 2019 at 10:14 pm
On August 14, 2019, New York opened a one-year “look back” period to allow victims of child sex abuse to file a claim under the new Child Victims Act (CVA), even if the statute of limitations under older laws had already expired.
Since then, over 1,000 victims across New York have filed lawsuits under CVA, with claims dating back as far as the 1950s. Although suits have been filed statewide, the most have been filed in Erie County (almost 300 suits), which is home to the Buffalo Diocese of the Catholic Church. Large numbers of claims have also been filed in Manhattan (over 250 cases) and Brooklyn (more than 150 cases).
Advocates push for anonymity for victims
Many of the victims want their names to be kept secret and have filed suits under aliases like John Doe. The victims’ lawyers contend that state laws protect the privacy of victims and having to release their names might keep victims from seeking the justice they deserve or even pursuing mental health treatment. They also insist that publishing the victims’ names in public court documents would embarrass them even further, and they shouldn’t have to endure even more trauma on top of the abuse they’ve already suffered.
This has sparked a legal debate, with accused organizations claiming they have a legal right to know the names of their accusers. Defendants, such as public school districts, say it is impossible to accurately investigate the claims and properly defend themselves without knowing who filed the suit.
Public institutions like school districts also claim that the general public has a right to know the plaintiffs’ names because taxpayer money would have to be used to pay verdicts or settlements. In November 2019, a Manhattan judge ruled that victims did not have to release their names in a suit against the Northeast Province of Jesuit Brothers. However, it’s difficult to know how the ruling will impact other cases because the Jesuits are a private institution – not a government entity – plus other state courts are not bound by the Manhattan ruling.
New York lawmakers propose fund for child sexual abuse victims
Four New York state legislators have proposed a bill that would establish the “Child Victim Foundation Fund.” The lawmakers say it would help give every victim the ability to pursue justice because they could use the fund to pay for legal services. They’ve recommended that money for the fund would be generated by requiring abusers convicted of child sex crimes to pay an additional fee and by giving taxpayers the option to donate their tax refund to the fund.
Opponents claim the legislation has flaws that must be fixed before the bill can be considered. For example, they say that even with these funds, victims might have difficulty finding legal representation unless they’re suing a large institution. Additionally, opponents have argued that victims should be able to use the fund for expenses beyond legal fees, like therapy and medical bills.
The bill is the latest in a series of actions that New York’s government has taken to handle the new legislation and its impacts. The New York Office of Court Administration has also implemented special training for judges who will hear CVA cases and created an expedited discovery schedule for these cases, along with other initiatives.
CVA-inspired law in New Jersey enables victims across the country to seek justice
New York’s sexual abuse law has inspired similar legislation in other states, including laws passed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Under New Jersey’s Victims’ Rights Bill, a temporary two-year window opened in early December 2019 that allows older victims of sexual abuse as children to sue their alleged attackers and the institutions that protected their attackers.
Victims now have until they turn 55 or seven years from the date they realize the abuse harmed them – whichever date is later – to file a civil sexual abuse suit in New Jersey. Under the previous statute of limitations, victims only had two years from their 18th birthday or the date they became aware their injuries were caused by abuse to file a claim. The new law also removes the requirement that the alleged attacker must have been acting in loco parentis (in place of a parent) in order to be liable. This provision had previously made it difficult for victims to take legal action against public schools.
In addition to expanding claims against local schools. it’s expected that the New Jersey law will also spark a wave of suits against organizations like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts. Many organizations were previously protected from suits under the Charitable Immunity Act N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7. However, under the new law, nonprofit organizations can be held liable for sex abuse against children if it’s found they negligently hired, supervised, or retained an abuser. Local Catholic officials have even started selling property and increasing insurance policies to prepare for the financial impact of suits, according to local news reports.
In nearby Pennsylvania, the governor signed a similar bill in late November 2019 that ends the time limit for criminal charges for future cases, invalidates secrecy agreements that keep victims from speaking out, and increases penalties for mandated reporters who fail report child sexual abuse. The law also allows older victims to file civil suits up until they turn 55.
However, the bill does not establish a “look back” window like those in New York and New Jersey to allow older victims to file claims. Proponents of the legislation hope to use a constitutional amendment to implement a “look back” window in Pennsylvania as well. However, the measure would need to be approved in the 2021-2022 legislative session before it could be placed on the ballot, then voters would also need to approve the amendment in a statewide referendum.
Meanwhile, sexual abuse victims across the nation are exploring the possibility that they might be able to file lawsuits under New Jersey’s law, no matter where they reside currently. People who suffered sexual abuse during trips to New Jersey for things like Catholic church events might be able to sue the archdiocese that organized the trip or owned the property where abuse took place.
For example, a judge in Atlantic City ruled that a man could sue the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in New Jersey courts since his abuse took place in New Jersey. Similarly, a group of sisters are also proceeding with lawsuits against the Newark Archdiocese and Harrisburg Diocese. They allege a priest was allowed to transfer to Harrisburg and abuse them there, even after Newark clergy knew the priest had sexually abused children in New Jersey for years.
Additionally, people who suffered sexual abuse as children under an organization based in New Jersey might be able to sue the group, even if the abuse took place in another state. For example, any abuse linked to the Boy Scouts might merit a case under New Jersey’s law – no matter where the abuse took place – because the organization was headquartered in that state between 1954 and 1979.
How to get help in your sexual abuse case
Sexual abuse is traumatic and impacts all areas of your life. If you or a loved one were sexually abused as a child, you have a legal right to pursue justice and compensation – even if the abuse took place a long time ago. Courts have recognized that it sometimes takes years before victims understand the full effect of the abuse. However, to win a child sexual abuse lawsuit, you’ll need to gather enough evidence to convince the court of your claim, which can be difficult for abuse that happened many years ago if you are trying to pursue a claim all by yourself.
At Hach & Rose, LLP, we understand the pain you’re going through, and we don’t want you to have to face this traumatizing event all alone. We have a depth of experience helping sexual abuse survivors just like you sue their attackers, so we know how to handle all aspects of your case with care and sensitivity you need.
The trusted Hach & Rose, LLP team can help you understand your legal options and help you track down witnesses and evidence to prove your injuries – even for abuse that happened many decades ago. Meanwhile, our compassionate attorneys will help guide you through this devastating process and give you the empathy and respect you deserve.
With over 100 years of combined experience, our knowledgeable lawyers have the skills and resources to tackle your case. Let us help you pursue the justice and compensation you’re owed and get on the road to recovery. Contact us today to schedule a free and confidential consultation by calling (212) 779-0057 or contacting us online.