* Updated 3/10/23
A legislative effort to create a retroactive window during which childhood sexual abuse victims can file civil claims against alleged perpetrators and enablers, even if Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations has expired, is further along than it has ever been.
The measure – House Bill 14 – was staunchly backed by outgoing Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, who urged legislators to pass it however possible. And thanks to his efforts, it appears that the measure is poised to become law.
About Pennsylvania’s HB 14
HB 14 is intended to provide new opportunities to survivors of child sexual abuse whose claims have been barred by an expired statute of limitations.
If passed, the measure would amend the state constitution and create a temporary two-year window for survivors to file claims. This is significant for several reasons:
- It recognizes accepted research showing that social and psychological pressures can keep survivors from coming forward for years after their abuse.
- It opens a temporary window for survivors to bring civil claims against abusers and any institution that employed or supervised them – no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.
- It accounts for the many survivors who missed their opportunities to file lawsuits when the state’s statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims was much shorter than the current limit (Pennsylvania now allows victims of child sex abuse to file suit until the age of 55).
The measure’s amendment would take the form of a new Subsection under Section 11 of Article 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The subsection would read:
- An individual for whom a statutory limitations period has already expired shall have a period of two years from the time that this subsection becomes effective to commence an action arising from childhood sexual abuse, in such cases as provided by law at the time that this subsection becomes effective.
Tracking the Progress of Pennsylvania’s Child Sex Abuse Lookback Law
The child sexual abuse lookback law has enjoyed strong support in Pennsylvania, having been introduced in previous legislative sessions as HB 951 and HB 963. However, it encountered a procedural error that has delayed its full adoption into law.
In Pennsylvania, changes to the state constitution can only be made when a specific process is followed. This includes the need for lawmakers to approve an amendment twice in two consecutive sessions, the proposed amendment being published in local newspapers for a certain period, and the measure being included on the ballot during an election so voters can decide.
The amendment was on track to be included on the 2021 ballot but was derailed after officials failed to properly advertise the measure in newspapers across the state’s 67 counties. The administrative error led to the resignation of the former Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, prompted a formal investigation, and required lawmakers to restart the multi-year constitutional amendment process.
While the speedbump is disheartening for advocates and survivors alike, recent developments show things are moving in the right direction:
- In February 2023, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed two measures that would allow adult survivors of child sex abuse to file civil lawsuits against their abusers and the institutions that failed to protect them. The issue has received strong bipartisan support each of the four times it has been passed by the House in the past six years, and the passing of two separate bills, one a constitutional amendment and the other a statutory change, will provide Senate leaders with two options to provide victims with a needed pathway to justice. The two-year lookback window created under the amendment could take effect after the November 2023 election, or sooner if the statutory change is passed.
- At the end of August 2022, Gov. Tom Wolf released a statement in which he apologized for the error that prevented the measure from reaching the ballot and announced that legislative leaders have agreed to prioritize second passage of the amendment early next legislative session (2023-2024).
- In November 2022, former PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro was elected Governor of Pennsylvania. Shapiro is a longtime advocate of creating a lookback window for survivors of child sexual abuse.
Given the recent announcement from outgoing Gov. Wolf and the incoming of governor-elect Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s child sexual abuse lookback window could open as early as May 2023.
As a firm with extensive experience litigating sexual abuse lawsuits under similar lookback windows and statutory amendments in states like New York and California, Levy Konigsberg is closely tracking the progress of Pennsylvania’s measure and preparing to help survivors across Pennsylvania understand their rights and options for bringing civil claims.
If you think you have a sex abuse lawsuit to file, either now or when the two-year lookback window opens in Pennsylvania, contact Levy Konigsberg online now. Our firm helps clients nationwide with highly sensitive and controversial sex abuse lawsuits against powerful defendants like universities, medical institutions, religious associations, and more. We have recovered over $3 billion in damages for our clients and are trusted by clients across the country. Call (800) 315-3806 to request a consultation.