New York Child Sexual Abuse Law Could Allow More Adult Victims to File Lawsuits

March 12, 2009 / News Inferno

The New York state legislature could soon make it possible for many adult victims of child sexual abuse to file civil suits against their abusers, as well as any institution that enabled that abuse. According to The New York Times, a law that would extend the deadline victims have for filing child abuse lawsuits could finally become law sometime this year.

The law - called the Child Victims Act - has been proposed before, but never passed. According to The New York Times, Republicans in the state Senate had always been able to block the bill. But, the Democrats now control the legislature. What’s more, the Times said Gov. David Paterson is a proponent of the act, and would likely sign it if it is passed.

Currently, the deadline for bringing such a lawsuit is 5 years after a victim turns 18. According to The New York Times, the Child Victims Act would give victims a one-year exemption from the statute of limitations. Regardless of how long ago the alleged abuse occurred, they could file suit in civil court. At the year’s end, time limits on such claims would be restored, but with a wider window: Instead of a five-year period after turning 18, victims would have 10 years to file claims, the Times said

As it is written now, the Child Victims Act would only apply to lawsuits filed against private institutions and individuals. This is mainly because of legal protections granted under existing state law to all public workers and agencies. According to the Times, critics of the act have argued that this unfairly discriminates against religious institutions and private schools. But proponents of the Child Victims Act have said that the disparity could be addressed in future legislation.

Those who support the bill are hoping to provide an avenue for victims of abuse some avenue of recourse. According to The New York Times, the Child Victims Act was inspired by the clergy abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church over the past decade. Critics of the Church have accused its hierarchy of enabling the abuse. In some instances, abusive priests were allowed to torment children for decades. Often, this occurred because those guilty of abuse were simply moved from parish to parish to keep allegations quiet. When the abuse scandals surfaced, hundreds of victims in New York found they could not bring suit against the Church and its officials because of the statute of limitations.

According to The New York Times, several other states have passed similar laws. Such a measure has allowed the adult victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy to win between $800 million to $1 billion in damages and settlements, the Times said.

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A closer look at laws, lawyers and those with strong voices

I have a very dear friend who is a lawyer.  Jokes are often made about his career choice because he's paid to defend people caught doing criminal activity.  Although we don't discuss actual cases, we do discuss the nature of people and evidence presented in a court-room.  If there's one thing my friend knows, it's not all things are as they seem to be.  [My friend was abused when he was a child...  needless to say, my friend is a hero in my harsh and critical eyes.]

This morning, an update was made on a post that was put on our pages late yesterday.   We got a written complaint from a lawyer, telling us certain written information had to be removed because we were spreading lies started by a certain woman.  In fact, we at PPL get many letters written by lawyers, telling us to remove certain pieces because it can damage/ruin certain jobs/professions.  [Imagine, certain lawyers find it disturbing to have articles linking their name to topics like "child trafficking" and "pedophiles"!]

I suppose there are many law makers, lawyers and various professional people, (including members of the clergy), who wish very large groups of people would take a pill that completely erases parts of our memory.  After all, wouldn't it be nice if none of us had a past that had the potential to haunt or destroy new (future) opportunities?

Today I read a blog-post written by a lawyer in New York.  Although I do enjoy a good feeding frenzy on those caught with their pants down, I also like to feature people who seem to work for the good of humanity.  I will include his written piece, so others can decide if we, "the little people",  need more lawyers working for the victims of poor choices made within "family and child services".

I'm writing this blog post in response to a comment posted about one of my earlier blog posts. In his comment, the writer attributed to me why lawyers take priest abuse cases: money and anti-Catholicism. I am compelled to respond to these inaccuracies and false attributions.

First of all, priest abuse cases are not the typical consumer justice case because in most instances, the statute of limitations is such that the survivor of abuse has no legal recourse whatsoever. Because the abuse happened so long ago, the abuser and the institution that protected him and allowed him to continue the abuse is immune from lawsuits. I take these cases because someone has to expose the secrecy and cover-up that allowed the abuse to continue for decades. Secondly, if we are able to bring an abuse case to court, the Church is forced to turn over documents about the nature and extent of their actions concerning the abuse scandal. Justice demands accountability and transparency which are the two strongest weapons we as a society have to stop child abuse. If the abuse remains in the shadows, it continues to fester and continue. As a result, many more children will be harmed and lives will be shattered.

The anti-Catholic charge has been around since the beginning of the priest abuse scandal in 2002 (at least it's latest epoch). While it's easy to hurl labels, it's not so easy to ground same in fact. The exposure of priest's criminal behavior and the institution's failure to prevent it from continuing is a matter of public record. It's not a matter of opinion or debate. The fact that I discuss it and represent those who've been victimized by it doesn't make me anti-Catholic or anti-religion. On the contrary, I am holding the Church to the societal standard of being a good public citizen and a steward of the public trust.

This is why I'm advocating for the change in New York's sexual abuse law. The Child Victims Act would go along way to hold the Church and its clergy accountable for its actions. I advocate the same for pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies who have a public duty to be good steward in society.  [From:  "Priest Abuse Cases: Why We Handle Them", Joe Saunders, March 15, 2009, http://tampabay.injuryboard.com/miscellaneous/priest-abuse-cases-why-we-handle-them.aspx?googleid=259144]

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