New Tougher Child Victim’s Act Passes, Governor to Sign into Law

After more than a decade of dashed hopes, the New York Child Victims Act has finally passed and is headed to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk for signature. The new legislation will provide abuse survivors a one-year window in which to file a lawsuit against the institution that protected or employed the abuser. Going forward, victims will have until their 55th birthday to bring a civil lawsuit.

The legislation has failed in the past due to heavy lobbying efforts from organizations like the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church.  Critics of the legislation have argued that expanding the statute of limitations is unfair. But because research shows that many survivors don’t begin dealing with what happened to them until later in life, lawmakers decided giving them more time to bring a civil lawsuit is appropriate, Senate bill sponsor Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) explained.

The rationale behind the bill has not changed over the years, but the political landscape has made a seismic shift in New York and across the country. Most of the seven dioceses and the Archdiocese of New York have introduced compensation plans independently administered by a Washington DC law firm headed by Attorney Kenneth Feinberg who also administered the 9/11 compensation fund.

The compensation funds have met with mixed results. The Diocese of Buffalo, for instance, has come under withering media scrutiny for its handling of abuse claims. Those who applied for inclusion in the compensation programs and have been denied may be able to seek relief from the courts when the latest Child Victims Act is signed into law by Governor Cuomo.

The Daily News adds, “Going forward, the bill also does away with a requirement that a minor abused at a public institution like a school must file within 90 days of the attack of an intent to sue. Under the latest draft, someone sexually assaulted at a public institution would be able to bring a civil lawsuit up to his or her 55th birthday. The draft also includes a one-year lookback window to revive old cases that under current law cannot be filed.”

The bill includes language designed to ensure that window will be open to those abused at both private and public institutions.

The NY Catholic Conference has already criticized the passage of the bill as it has done every year since the bill has been brought to the legislature. However, this year the Catholic lobby may not be as successful in years past convincing elected officials to block the reform bill.

The Boy Scouts of America announced last month that it is considering filing for Chapter 11 “reorganization” bankruptcy protection. New York’s new statute of limitations, especially with its one-year “window” for old claims, may be enough to push BSA into bankruptcy. Bankruptcy for the Boy Scouts will not cut off victims’ right to make a claim, but it could limit the time for bringing such a claim. We will have to keep a close eye on how things develop.

The movement to protect children has been a slow slog for those of us who are working to protect children and advocating for adults who were abused as minors. But if New York can change, maybe other states will follow suit.

 

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

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