MAY 2020 LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: The New York State Legislature has amended The Child Victims Act by extending the time for civil cases alleging child sexual abuse to be filed through August 2021, regardless of how long ago the incident is claimed to have taken place.
The lawyers at Queller, Fisher, Washor, Fuchs & Kool And The Law Office Of William A. Gallina, LLP protect the rights of those that suffered abuse as children. Our attorneys are currently reviewing and evaluating cases to be commenced under the Child Victims Act. A consultation with our lawyers would be completely free of charge. The only fee we ever charge is a contingency fee, which is a percentage of the proceeds from a successful recovery by way of a settlement, verdict or judgment.
Before passage of the Child Victims Act, New York State required most survivors of child sexual abuse to file a civil action against their abusers no later than the age of 23. Yet studies have shown that most survivors fail to report or are ill-equipped to come to terms with their abuse by the tender age of 23. The lament borne from such a restrictive statute of limitations was laid bare in 2006 when New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, was compelled to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims of alleged sexual abuse committed by priests over a multi-year period because the statute of limitations had expired. There the Court noted, “Regrettably, many of these claims are time-barred, and absent relief from the Legislature will remain unredressed.” Zumpano v. Quinn, 6 N.Y.3d 666 (2006). With the passage of the Child Victims Act, the Legislature has answered the call. Going forward, survivors of child sexual abuse have until they turn age 55 to file a civil action.
What Is The Child Victims Act?
On February 14, 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act into law. New York State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan’s 27th Senate District was the main sponsor of Senate Bill S2440, which, essentially “provides for the timeliness of commencing criminal and civil action for sexual offenses committed against children.”
Prior to the Child Victims Act becoming law, the previous statute of limitations required victims who suffered sexual abuse as a child to file a lawsuit by their 23rd year of age. Due to the passage of the Child Victims Act in 2019, the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse has been greatly expanded. Now, the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of a sexual offense committed against a child shall not begin to run until the child turns 23 years of age or the offense is reported to law enforcement, whichever occurs earlier. In the context of civil litigation, which is the area of law our attorneys focus on, the Child Victims Act provides that a civil action for conduct constituting a sexual offense against a child shall be brought on or before the child turns 55 years of age.
This extension of the statute of limitations is embodied in New York Civil Practice Law and Rules § 208 (b). This legislation opens the doors of justice to the thousands of survivors of child sexual abuse in New York State by prospectively extending the statute of limitations.
The Law Revives Time-Barred Claims
But what about those individuals who were child victims of a sexual offense in the past and who never filed a claim? What about those victims who had filed a lawsuit, but their lawsuit was dismissed as time-barred (under the old statute of limitations), or due to a failure to file a notice of claim (as against a municipality) or notice of intention to file claim (as against the State of New York)? What about their rights? The law recognizes that there are countless individuals who suffered injury as a consequence of a sexual offense committed against them when they were children. This law breathes new life into their quest to hold accountable those perpetrators who had caused them physical, psychological or other injury.
To that end, the Child Victims Act created the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules § 214-g. Assuming the victim is still 55 years of age or younger, this section revives every civil action that was previously deemed time-barred or previously dismissed before the law’s effective date on the grounds that such action was time-barred and/or had failed to properly file a notice of claim or notice of intention to file claim. It creates a 1 year window in which adult survivors of child sexual abuse would be permitted to file a civil action; that window opens 6 months after the February 14, 2019 effective date of the new law (or August 14, 2019) and closes 1 year and 6 months after the law’s effective date (or August 14, 2020). Moreover, any action which has been revived under § 214-g is entitled to a special trial preference, meaning it will reach a jury in an expedited fashion once pre-trial discovery has been completed.
Those perpetrators who remain hidden from law enforcement and continue to pose a threat to public safety will now face the call of justice.
The Law Dispenses With Notice Of Claim And Notice Of Intention To File Claim Requirements
Under the Child Victims Act, the laws pertaining to municipal notice of claim and state notice of intention to file claim requirements have been modified. New York General Municipal Law § 50-e(8) added language dispensing with the requirement that a notice of claim be filed as a precondition to a lawsuit filed under the Child Victims Act. Also, General Municipal Law § 50-i dispenses with the precondition requirements attendant to the actual presentation and filing of the lawsuit itself. Thus, a lawsuit filed under the Child Victims Act need not adhere to the restrictive time and pleading requirements that § 50-e and § 50-i require of other suits brought against a municipality. Education Law § 3813 was amended, too, and the foregoing notice of claim requirements do not apply to any claim brought under the Child Victims Act against a teacher or school staff employee.
Similarly, the requirements set forth by the Court of Claims Act § 10 do not apply. This section ordinarily governs claims seeking damages for personal injuries caused by the negligence of an employee of the state. Thus, a claim against an officer or employee of the State of New York to recover damages for injury as a result of sexual abuse need not comply with the restrictive time requirements that § 10 requires of other suits brought against the state.
Which Institutions Might Be Liable Under The Child Victims Act?
Any organization that works with children and had a child molester as an employee or volunteer may be liable. This would include churches, public and private schools, the Boy Scouts and day care centers, to name a few.
What Type Of Claim Could I Make Under The Child Victims Act?
The Child Victim Act extends the statute of limitations for any type of claim that arises from injuries caused by sexual offenses committed against a minor. The improper conduct can manifest by way of intentional tort, negligent supervision, negligent hiring and, as well, ordinary negligence. Our lawyers possess the legal acumen to properly discern which amongst these causes of action best suits the facts of your case.
Does The Child Victims Act Make It Easier For Victims To Win Lawsuits?
The Child Victims Act makes it possible for some victims to sue when that possibility didn't previously exist. That said, it does not lessen the burden of proof which victims must meet to convince a jury of the merits of one’s case. A party’s claim must be established by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence. A fair preponderance means that the overall quality of the evidence more nearly represents what the claimant alleges actually happened, as compared to any stance taken in opposition. Put another way, the prevailing party in a civil case presents evidence that is more persuasive than what the other side advances. A plaintiff must prove to a jury that he or she was sexually abused and that a diocese or other institution knew or should have known that the perpetrator was a molester. A plaintiff must prove that the sexual abuse was a substantial factor in causing his or her injury and damages.