In 2019, the New York Legislature took a landmark step in protecting the rights of victims of childhood sexual abuse by extending the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse lawsuits. Under the New York Child Victims Act (CVA), victims now have until the age 55 to sue the parties responsible for their abuse (by comparison, the old statute of limitations required child sex abuse victims to file suit by the time they turned 21). In lengthening the time period for survivor lawsuits, the CVA represents an unprecedented effort to hold accountable large and powerful institutions that negligently supervised child abusers and failed to take corrective action when abuse was reported.
The CVA demonstrates a more sophisticated understanding of how trauma affects survivors of childhood sexual abuse. It can take many years, even decades, for abuse victims to come to terms with the harm done to them. Many victims repress their abuse, or experience feelings of fear, shame, and humiliation so extreme that taking action against their abuser seems like an overwhelming task. By extending the time period for these victims to recognize and seek compensation for their psychological and physical injuries, the CVA allows victims a measure of justice previously unavailable to the majority of adults abused as children.
Key Provisions of New York’s CVA
The CVA has several key provisions for extending the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse. First, the CVA extends the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges for sexual abuse until the age of 28. Second, the CVA extends the statute of limitations for filing civil claims for sexual abuse until the age of 55. Third, the CVA provides individuals who experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18, and were previously precluded from filing claims by the state’s statute of limitations, with a one-year window to file child sexual abuse charges regardless of their current age. The one-time, one-year window applies even if the victim had already filed a lawsuit that was dismissed upon the grounds that it violated the statute of limitations.
The new one-year period will begin on August 14, 2019 (six months after the Governor signed the CVA) and will run through August 14, 2021. The window to file New York child sex abuse lawsuits was extended until August 14, 2021 by Governor Cuomo as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time period, any victim, regardless of age, may file a lawsuit against the persons or entities responsible for his or her abuse. The CVA also eliminates the “notice of claim” requirement, which previously mandated that any person intending to file a personal injury lawsuit against a municipal entity first file a notice of claim within 90 days of the incident.
Who is Eligible to File a Claim under the CVA?
Under the CVA, anyone who satisfies the following critera can file a lawsuit against a perpetrator of sexual abuse: (1) the abusive activity began before the victim was 18 years of age; (2) the sexual abuse occurred in New York state; and (3) the victim suffered physical, psychological or emotional damage as a result of the abuse. Any victim who previously filed a claim that was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired may also file a new lawsuit under the CVA.
Which Parties are Subject to Claims Under the CVA?
The CVA allows victims of sexual abuse to file claims against both private and public institutions that may have contributed to the abuse. This can include hospitals, schools, religious organizations, youth groups, athletic programs, or any other entity that was responsible for employing or otherwise exercising supervision and control over an abuser. According to the legislation, lawsuits can be filed “against every party whose intentional or negligent acts or omissions are alleged to have resulted in the commission” of sexual abuse against children. This broad language opens the door to holding accountable all parties responsible for enabling such abuse.
Opposition to the Passage of the CVA
The Catholic Church in New York has voiced opposition to the enactment of the CVA. A flood of litigation against the New York Catholic Diocese is anticipated in response to the passage of this legislation. Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in New York publicly stated that while they are in favor of the CVA, such a bill should emphasize helping victims and avoid “breaking” the Church. The passage of the CVA preceded the disclosure by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York of sexual abuse by 115 priests and five deacons in New York in April 2019. The revelation was significant since the New York archdiocese has been slow to publish the names of priests accused of sexual misconduct, while other dioceses have been actively identifying such individuals.
But it is not just the Catholic Church that should anticipate litigation following the passage of this legislation. The CVA is expected to have a far-reaching impact on nearly all public and private institutions that work with children. New York school districts, in particular, have voiced concern about their future liability exposure. In California, the Los Angeles Unified School District settled lawsuits against two faculty members for $22 million in 2018. The District paid $88 million in 2016 and $139 million in 2014 to settle prior lawsuits.
The Significance of the CVA
By instituting a one-year look-back window, New York became one of just a handful of states that allow victims of all ages to file civil claims for sexual abuse. With the passage of the CVA, New York joins nine other states and Washington, D.C. in revamping its laws governing the statute of limitations for civil suits in sexual abuse cases. The CVA, and similar legislation in other states, allows victims to seek justice when they are psychologically and emotionally prepared to disclose their abuse. Statistics from Child USA indicate that the majority of sexual abuse victims do not disclose the abuse, if at all, until the age of 52. The CVA also represents a meaningful opportunity for victims of sexual abuse to receive restitution since large institutions are in a position to compensate survivors for their negligent actions. These laws have been praised by legislators, victims’ rights advocates and survivors for allowing those who have been excluded by the judicial system to finally seek justice and compensation for their injuries.
Levy Konigsberg LLP is a nationally recognized law firm that has handled all types of negligence cases for more than three decades. If you or a member of your family has been the victim of sexual abuse, please contact our New York sex abuse lawyers for a free consultation by calling (800) 315-3806 or submit an email inquiry.