State lawmakers aim to open lawsuit window for adult sex abuse suits

The Child Victims Act was co-sponsored by state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), seen here in 2017. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

By RYAN TARINELLI

Churches, youth groups and schools were hit by a tsunami of lawsuits in 2019 after New York gave survivors of childhood sexual abuse a one-year window to sue over allegations ordinarily barred by statutes of limitation.

Now, some lawmakers want to open the same window for people abused as adults, a move that could lay a pathway for people to file additional lawsuits against some high-profile men targeted in the #MeToo movement.

Sen. Brad Hoylman introduced the Adult Survivors Act this autumn, saying survivors of adult sex abuse deserve their day in court.

“For too long, justice has been out of reach for adult survivors of sexual crimes,” Hoylman said in a statement.

The proposal would give abuse victims a temporary, one-year period to sue over abuse that occurred when they were 18 years or older. After the year window was up, the state statute of limitations would be back in effect.

New York is one of 15 states where rules have been enacted to extend or suspend the statute of limitations for certain past claims. The Child Victims Act has led to hundreds of lawsuits filed by people who say they were abused as children but were previously barred from suing.

With child sex abuse survivors being able to sue, supporters say a “lookback” window for people assaulted as adults is a matter of fairness.

“Why are they not entitled to seek justice?” said Marissa Hoechstetter, an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, noting that lawsuits allow people to seek justice if criminal prosecution is not feasible.

The legislation is expected to be considered this coming legislative session, which starts Jan. 8.

The bill would temporarily set aside a tenet of civil litigation, which is that cases spoil with age. The memories of potential witnesses fade. Records are lost or destroyed. Potential witnesses move, making them harder to find and interview.

Eileen Buholtz, an attorney based in Rochester, said statutes of limitations are also meant to give people closure and remove the fear of a potential lawsuit for the rest of their lives.

In New York, the time limits for filing lawsuits over sexual assault vary for adult victims, depending on the type of abuse and when the offense took place. Earlier this year, lawmakers extended the time limit for filing lawsuits to 20 years for certain sex crimes like second-degree rape and second-degree criminal sexual act, but those extensions are not retroactive. For some people abused decades ago, the limit for a lawsuit could have been as short as one year.

Associated Press