In January of this year, the New York Legislature adopted the Child Victims Act, simplifying and streamlining the process for individuals who were molested or sexually accused as children many years ago to seek by civil and criminal sanctions against the people who abused them. The Child Victims Act made many important changes in the law. Five years were added to the window of time allowed to bring charges of child sexual abuse. The Act also extended the statute of limitations for future occurrences of child sexual abuse so that victims can civil file suits until they are 55 years of age and bring criminal charges until age 28. Previously, New York’s statute of limitations had been some of the most draconian in the country – victims were only allowed to file civil and criminal charges until age 23 before the Act became law.
However, perhaps the most impactful provision of the Act created a one-year window, which began on August 14, 2019, that allows victims to bring suit without regard to their current age or the date when their sexual abuse occurred – allowing legal actions to begin for victims abused decades ago who are otherwise unable to file due to the current statute of limitations. New York’s civil courts have been preparing for this window and the potential for massive amounts of new cases, designating judges in each judicial district and each of New York City’s five counties to handle nothing but lawsuits resulting from the Child Victims Act. New York City alone has twelve judges in its five counties who will hear only these lawsuits.
Within the first 24 hours of the window with no age or time limit, over 400 lawsuits have already been filed alleging child sexual abuse. Currently, among the targets already named in these suits include the late Jeffrey Epstein, the Roman Catholic Church, current and former members of the clergy, schools, Rockefeller University Hospital, and the Boy Scouts of America.
It is unclear the full financial impact the one-year window will have on institutions such as the Catholic Church. When California enacted a similar law in 2002, the Catholic dioceses there ended up spending $1.2 billion to settle cases against them.
Sexual abuse victims in New York who have already received some of the $65 million that was paid out among 323 victims in 2016 by the New York archdiocese’s compensation fund have already waived their right to take advantage of the Child Victim Act and sue. The archdiocese is anticipating that many insurers will refuse to pay out for claims made during the one-year litigation window, so they have already filed suit against over two dozen insurance companies to force them to cover claims of sexual abuse. The outcome of those suits, like the final result from the Child Victims Act, remains to be seen, but will likely have a major impact going into the future. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you and your family- get in touch with the talented team of New York attorneys today.