Statute of Limitations Reform: Abuse Victims | Brooklyn Personal Injury Attorney


In a recent New York Times article, Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Harvard, noted the continuing role of the Catholic Church in opposing any change in New York State’s Statute of Limitations with respect to the ability of Sexual Abuse victims seeking redress for the harm they suffered.

Professor Lessig pointed out that New York has one of the most restrictive Statute of Limitations when it comes to child sexual abuse.  New York law requires a person to bring a lawsuit involving sexual abuse within five years of reaching their 18th birthday, or forever be barred from bringing such a lawsuit.

Three times the New York State Assembly has passed legislation altering that law.

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey has attempted to extend the Statute to allow a lawsuit TEN years following the 18th birthday and, additionally, to allow a ONE YEAR WINDOW, during which anyone, of any age, could bring a lawsuit for sexual abuse.  The New York State Senate has repeatedly refused to follow the Assembly’s example in passing such legislation.

According to Professor Lessig, “At the core of the opposition to this bill is heavy lobbying by the New York Catholic Conference (which)…has hired top dollar lobbyists to kill the bill.”   The object of the Catholic Conference is an attempt to protect the Church from the loss of significant wealth resulting from the inevitable avalanche of lawsuits.  Of course, this will also result in hundreds, if not thousands, of victims being barred from receiving compensation for the harm they suffered.

Clergy Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Jewish Community

While sexual abuse claims have been rampant among clergy affiliated with the Catholic Church over the past many years, the clergy of all other religions are not immune from these allegations.

The Borough of Brooklyn in New York City hosts one of the largest concentrations of Jews in the United States. On average some 700 child sexual abuse cases are brought each year by the Brooklyn District Attorney. There were some years when only one or two, or even no such cases were brought involving any of the so-called “ultra orthodox” Jews (including the approximately 180,000 Hasidic Jews) in Brooklyn. To what can we attribute this apparent absence of pedophilia among ultra orthodox Jews that exists in the rest of the population? Was there something inherent, or cultural, or educational, that made this community immune from this aberration?

The reality is that historically, this segment of the population keep strict, unrelenting separation of their lives from the secular world around them. Matters are referred to rabbinical courts, rather than to civil courts, and issues that would otherwise become known are maintained within the community itself. Times, however, are changing, at least in terms of this heinous offense. With publicity all around them showing the secular population trying to deal with the issue of pedophilia abuse cases in New York, there are those in this insulated community that believe the ability of their own community to respond appropriately an adequately, both to the perpetrator and to the needs of the victim, is non-existent. The result: community taboos against going to, and relying upon, civil authorities, are being overcome. Nevertheless, the veneration for the rabbis and the “yeshivas” in the community remain potent and nearly inviolable.

For the attorney dealing in these type of highly sensitive cases, it is mandatory to be sensitive to both the emotional needs of the individual client, and as importantly, to helping the client maintain his or her place, and reputation, in their community. The “Shomer Shabbos” or “frum” community is tight knit. It is guided by concepts, rules and strictures that have enabled it to maintain its identity through the most unimaginably difficult times. It is no easy matter to go outside well established boundaries. The New York City personal injury attorneys representing such individuals must do all that they can to work within the restrictions presented, while gaining the relief to which their client is entitled.


New York’s "The Child Victims Act" (A.2596) Latest UPDATE

A bill that would have extended the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse did not pass the State Assembly during this year’s legislative session. The Child Victims Act (A.2596) was pulled from the calendar on June 23, 2009 after Assembly leaders decided the bill did not have enough votes to pass.

Under current law, victims of childhood sexual abuse have five years from their 18th birthdays to report the crime and/or to file a civil claim for damages against their alleged abusers. The Child Victims Act sought to change the five year statute of limitations period so that it did not begin to run until the victim’s 23rd birthday, giving the victim until age 28 to file criminal charges and/or a civil lawsuit. This would have effectively increased the statute of limitations period from five years to 10.

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Clergy Sexual Abuse: Proposed New York Legislation, a Follow Up

Clergy Sexual Abuse Legislation in New York
It now appears as if the New York State legislature will not be passing legislation that would extend the Statute of Limitations for bringing a lawsuit for victims of sexual abuse. Currently a person has until the age of twenty-three to bring a lawsuit. The new legislation would have extended it to age twenty-eight and would have given everyone, regardless of age, one year from the enactment of the law to bring such a lawsuit.

When the complexion of the New York State Senate changed from Republican to Democrat, it was widely expected to join the State Assembly in passing this law. It now appears that when the law seemed to have a real chance of passing, pressure by the Catholic Church convinced many legislators, previous sponsors of the legislation among them (!!), to oppose the bill. The position of the church was that it would bankrupt the church, as it had apparently done previously to the Diocese of San Diego, after California passed a similar bill.

The sponsor of the legislation has vowed to pursue the passage of the bill and believes it still has a real chance of eventual passage, sooner rather than later.


New York to Pass Bill on Sexual Abuse?

What is the status of legislation that is designed to extend the Statue of Limitations in New York for sexual abuse?

With the change in control of the New York State Senate going from the Republicans to the Democrats after several decades, advocates for extending the time that a person may file a lawsuit for having been sexually abused are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Until now, a person had five years from the time they became 18 years old (i.e. 23 years old) to bring such a lawsuit.   If through neglect, or more often, the effects of the trauma, a person waited more than five years after they reached 18 years to bring a lawsuit for the sexual abuse they suffered, they were forever barred from bring the lawsuit.

There are currently two competing pieces of legislation intended to alleviate this harsh situation: First, there is a bill simply extending the period within which a lawsuit may be brought to ten years from a person’s 18th birthday (until 28 years old).  A second bill would also extend the age limit to 28 years old but would, additionally,  add a provision giving anyone at all, no matter how old, and no matter how long ago the sexual abuse occurred, the ability to bring a lawsuit within a one year “window of opportunity” from the date the bill becomes law.

Some  religious organizations are vigorously opposing the “window of opportunity” portion of the legislation.   They oppose it for two main reasons: first, this could open them up to such a large number of lawsuits that it could bankrupt many organizations.  Even the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn is concerned about that possibility. Second, they see no way of defending themselves in cases that could conceivably be as much as forty years old–and where often the accused clergyman may have already died.

Those in favor of the “window of opportunity “ portion of the bill point to the enormous harm sexual abuse can have on a person’s entire life and claim that it may take many years for a person so affected to be willing to actually admit and face up to the facts of the abuse.   They argue that it would be unfair to the victim of this horrendous abuse to deny them any compensation whatsoever.

With valid arguments being available to both sides, it might be wise to attempt some compromise..    While it is generally unfair and potentially injurious to the cause of justice to limit compensation to harmed individuals, it might be acceptable when the equities on both sides are so cogent.   Limit, if you will, recovery to perhaps $500,000 or even one million dollars.   In this way, at the least, most organizations will probably be able to cope with any lawsuit they face.and, at the same time, the victims will have the opportunity to have “their day in court”, an act that may well be a very significant contributor to their further recovery.

Post by New York Personal Injury Lawyer Steve Orlow