Big Changes to Deadlines in Child Sex Abuse Cases

On Monday, the New York Legislature passed a series of reforms that will significantly impact civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions for sexual abuse of children. Senate Bill S2440, or the Child Victims Act, extends the statutes of limitations to allow victims who are abused before age 18 more time to file lawsuits — and more time for the police and prosecutors to bring criminal charges. Governor Cuomo is expected to sign the measure.

The Child Victims Act affects the law in three major ways:

  1. It gives victims until they turn 55 to file lawsuits against their abusers or institutions that allowed their abuse, notwithstanding the other limitations periods in the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules which used to impose overlapping time-bars on civil child sex abuse cases.
  2. It extends the statutes of limitations for criminal prosecutions, allowing prosecutors to bring charges in misdemeanor sex abuse cases until the victim is 25 years old and in felony sex abuse cases until the victim is 28.
  3. It grants civil claims that are now time-barred a one-time, “one year look-back” period to file suit.

The potential impact of these changes on both victims and defendants is enormous. Individuals who were victimized as children, even decades ago, may now be able to file lawsuits against their abusers or institutions that were negligent or complicit, allowing them to be sexually abused. The passage of the law amounts to official recognition of victims’ advocates’ claims that a majority of child sex abuse victims do not report until age 52.

The new law will affect our clients in two distinct ways. If you were sexually abused as a child and have been suffering the effects of that abuse but thought it was too late to pursue a civil case, we may be able to help. You will still have to prove the case by a preponderance of the evidence — and evidence erodes with the passage of time — but if you file in the next year (from when the bill is signed into law), you very well might be entitled to compensation form your abuser or complicit institution. The new law may bring back to life many meritorious lawsuits that previously could not have been brought because of the statute of limitations. Lawsuits can be brought against both individual perpetrators and institutions that look the other way or allow sexual abuse to happen. Our firm has obtained millions of dollars for child victims of sexual abuse, rape survivors, and victims of civil rights abuses. Past results are no guarantee of future outcomes. Contact us if you think you have a case.

At the same time, we represent many defendants in criminal cases alleging sexual abuse of children. The Child Victims Act presents serious concerns for defendants. New Yorkers benefit from a robust ex post facto doctrine that prevents the state from extending statutes of limitations after a crime has been committed, but there are many exceptions for “non-punitive” measures that apply to sex offenders, including sex offender registration. But the extension of the limitations period may cause more marginal or even false charges to be brought. As with civil cases, evidence in criminal cases erodes over time, but so does evidence that might otherwise be available to the defense. Defendants could face criminal charges after not seeing the alleged victim for many years. We hope that, even with the new law, district attorneys will use common sense not to bring old criminal cases that don’t have substantial corroborating evidence.

Whether you are a victim of child sex abuse seeking legal recourse or have been named as a defendant in a criminal or civil action, our office can help analyze how the new law affects your case. Contact us to discuss your options and to protect your legal interests.

 

 

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