Hawaii Lawsuit Shows Need for Statute of Limitations Reform

Surf-Riders-Hawaii-Postcard

The man who sued “X-Men” filmmaker Bryan Singer for raping him as a teenager has added claims against three more Hollywood executives last week.  Michael Egan, who bravely and unusually used his own name in the litigation, alleges that he was an aspiring teen actor in Los Angeles when television executives Garth Ancier and David Neuman, and entertainment firm executive Gary Goddard,  drew him into an underage sex ring in Hollywood in late 1999 and 2000.

Egan filed the four separate lawsuits in Hawaii, where, he alleges, he was abused by the four men on different occasions.

Two years ago, Hawaii passed a statute that opened a “window” on sex abuse claims by adults for sexual assaults that occurred when they were children.  Although such claims would have been too late under Hawaii’s statute of limitations for civil claims, this “window” allowed victims of any age to file civil lawsuits. 

That window closed last week, on April 22, 2014.  Hawaii legislators and victim advocates are now working on a permanent fix to Hawaii’s statute of limitations. The fix would recognize the reality that most children and teens who are sexually assaulted are not psychologically able come forward about their abuse until well into adulthood.

Hawaii Senate Bill 2687 would allow victims to bring civil claims for child sexual abuse until they turn 55, or even later (the age limit is still under debate) by extending the statute of limitations. SB 2687 would also hold institutions and organizations, such as churches, schools, and the Boy Scouts, liable for sexual abuse caused by their own negligence, easing the current, somewhat more difficult “gross negligence” requirement.

SB 2687 is co-sponsored by Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, vice-chair of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee. “As a mother to a 5-year-old you realize that a child’s brain has not fully developed.” Shimabukuro said a “generous amount of time” is needed for children — and eventually, adults — to understand and respond to sexual abuse.

Opposition to SB 2687 comes from the Catholic Church and government officials who worry that by extending the statute of limitations the bill would cost youth-serving organizations – private and public – too much money in damages to victims.  

These institutions also argue that it is unfairly difficult to defend against claims of child molestation that happened decades ago.

But doesn’t that argument cut both ways? It is just as hard or harder for the victim to prove the case, since he or she was a child when the events happened and bears the “burden of proof” at trial.

A second bill is making its way through the Hawaii House.  House Rep. Mele Carroll, chair of the House Human Services Committee, sponsored House Bill 2034, which would remove the criminal and civil statutes of limitations on sexual assault in the first and second degrees, and continuous sexual assault against minors under 14.

Adults who were sexually molested or exploited when they were children in Hawaii deserve to have their stories heard and should be allowed to seek justice in Hawaii’s courts.  We stand by those victims and urge the Hawaii Legislature to pass lasting statute of limitation reform.

Dumas Law Group has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

newspaper templates - theme rewards