In a development that should concern large organizations with a history of rampant sexual abuse, the New Jersey Legislature has passed a bill to extend the amount of time that victims have to sue those responsible for their sexual abuse. Now, the statute of limitations has been greatly expanded for these victims, opening up the possibility of filing a claim for thousands of survivors. This caps a years-long effort to right the injustice of victims realizing that they could file a suit or learn of the damage after it was already too late.
New Sexual Abuse Law For New Jersey
Previously, the statute of limitations in New Jersey allowed lawsuits to be filed up to the age of 20 or two years after the victim discovered that they were harmed by the abuse. Under the new law, victims can file suit until the age of 55 or seven years after they learned that they were harmed by the abuse. In addition, the legislation has taken measures to make it easier for victims to sue the institutions that should have taken action to protect them from abuse such as a church or the Boy Scouts. The bill was signed into law by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. In New Jersey, the bill’s signing marked the culmination of a 15-year effort to change the law. The effort received a boost from the spate of revelations about sexual abuse that was instrumental in changing public opinion.
In addition to expanding the statute of limitations, the legislation also gives an additional opportunity to file a claim for those who had the statute of limitations previously toll. These victims now have two additional years from the time the law becomes effective in December 2019 to sue. This bill was necessary to introduce equity into the justice system. Oftentimes, people may not realize that they were abused or suffered injury from that abuse until later in life. Alternatively, younger people are less likely to come forward to say that they were abused. Deciding to reveal one’s own sexual abuse exposes a victim to additional trauma beyond the original event.
The institution that is most greatly affected by the change in laws is the Catholic Church. The Church faces hundreds of lawsuits based on sexual abuse allegedly committed by priests dating back decades. While the Catholic Church has established its own victims’ compensation fund, it still does not go the entire way to righting the wrong that was done to abuse victims.
Sexual Abuse Reporting
This legislation is the latest in a nationwide trend of expanding statutes of limitation as the country grapples with the scope of the sexual abuse epidemic. Instances of abuse dating back dozens of years are just now being reported for the first time, and many victims would otherwise find themselves without recourse absent a change in the laws. New York has also lengthened the statute of limitations for sex abuse, and California is considering making a change as well. In total, 11 states have passed similar laws, and the number of states is expected to grow in the near future.
In general, churches can be held liable for the acts of their employees. In addition, churches can be legally responsible for not taking the appropriate action to protect children from abuse. For example, churches that knew about the abuse, but did not take steps to report it or end it can be liable to the victims. Churches can also be held responsible for negligent selection in the hiring process. In many cases, churches hired clergy who had known records of molestation.
In most cases, victims would be able to receive a higher financial recovery when they sue an organization that has deeper pockets. The actual abuser will most likely not have the assets to satisfy large judgments, and the victims would have to recover it piecemeal over a longer period of time.
Both the local diocese and the national Catholic Church have been inundated with lawsuits for sexual abuse. There have been two class action suits against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that have even named the Holy See in the Vatican as defendants. Beyond the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts and several large public universities are also facing widespread litigation over their roles in a decades-long pattern of sexual abuse throughout their organizations.
Contact Our Sexual Abuse Lawyers Today
Abuse victims who have not yet filed a legal claim to be compensated for the harm that they have suffered should take advantage of this expanded opportunity to hold those who perpetrated the harm responsible. The lawyers at KBA Attorneys have a long track record of helping victims of sexual abuse receive compensation for their injuries and their trauma. They have previously taken on large institutions in order to help victims of sexual abuse get the justice that they deserve. Contact them today to find out how they can help.
- Nicholas Pugliese. “N.J. gives sex abuse victims sweeping new ability to sue”, WHYY, https://whyy.org/articles/n-j-gives-sex-abuse-victims-sweeping-new-ability-to-sue/. Accessed May 20, 2019.
- Deena Yellin. “NJ extends statute of limitations, allows sex abuse victims much more time to sue”, New Jersey Record, https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/new-jersey/2019/05/13/nj-extends-statute-limitations-child-abuse-cases/1183930001/. Accessed May 20, 2019.