A legal window is closing that has allowed nearly 9,000 residents of New York to file civil lawsuits against an assortment of organizations that harbored child abusers.
In 2019, New York legislators passed the Child Victims Act. This bill temporarily changed the state statute of limitations to allow other parties to file lawsuits against organizations and individuals who may have committed sexual abuse. The Child Victims Act specifically extended the state's statute to allow for criminal charges against sexual abusers until the victim turned 28, a five-year increase from the state's standard 23-year-old limit. It also allowed members to seek civil action against their abusers until they turned 55. Finally, it opened up a period that allowed all victims to seek civil action, regardless of how much time had occurred between today and the initial crime. While the window was supposed to close in August 2020, NY legislators further extended it in 2020 due to Covid-19 concerns.
At least 9,000 parties have taken advantage of this since 2019, filing civil lawsuits against an assortment of organizations. These include accusations against Catholic clergy, Boy Scout leaders, teachers, health care workers and family members. The sheer volume has had monumental effects on local organizations, including four New York Catholic Dioceses filing for bankruptcy protection.
New York is not the only state to open a window for civil lawsuits. Both California and New Jersey opened their statutes of restriction so that other parties could file.
For many state residents, these events helped dig up deeply buried memories and traumatic experiences. But for others, it was a moment that would hopefully lead to relief and justice for those harmed.
"Whatever financial pain the Church suffers as a result of this crisis pales in comparison to the life-altering suffering of survivors," Dennis Poust, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, told the Associated Press.