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Child Victims Act

In January of 2019 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature adopted the Child Victims Act empowering victims of child sex crimes by extending the statute of limitations. The Child Victims Act, or CVA, went into effect on August 14, 2019 opening the door for thousands of victims to bring claims that otherwise would not have been possible. The new act has shifted the balance of power. The old laws protected and even allowed the abuse to take place in the first place. The restrictive laws kept victims out of the legal system. This has changed now. The Child Victims Act in New York has given survivors the power to confront their abusers and it validates the struggles they have endured. "The passing of this legislation is telling survivors like myself that our stories matter to our government- and that we count in the eyes of the law," New York State Assemblywomen Yuh-Line Niou says. The times of New York's laws denying justice to survivors are over and every victim of child sex abuse is encouraged to seek their legal action.

How has the Child Victims Act Changed Victims' Legal Remedies?

Under the previous laws, survivors of child sex abuse were required to file a civil law suit prior to their 23rd birthday. Any failure to file a claim against an individual before the survivor turned 23, or 21 if the survivor was filing against an institution, resulted in that survivor losing their ability to seek justice in the state courts of New York. It has been well documented that many survivors do not come to terms with what happened to them until later in life, by which time it was too late to seek damages from those who have harmed them. The new CVA now pushed back the statute of limitations so that victims have until age 55 to bring suit. Additionally, it created a one-year window which has no age or time limit. From August 14, 2019 until August 13, 2020, victims who were previously told they were too old or was told it was too late to file a civil lawsuit, will now be able to file that lawsuit no matter when their abuse occurred. This one-year window allows all survivors, regardless of age, the opportunity to seek damages from their abuser.

This Act has been years in the making as victims have long lobbied for Governor Cuomo to extend the state's statute of limitations. Governor Cuomo and the state lawmakers ultimately agreed that the laws in place at the time were unnecessarily restrictive and did not account for those victims who take years to process the abuse they had suffered. The creation of a revival window to set aside the statute of limitations has been adopted other states including Montana, Arizona, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Jersey as well as Washington D.C. Each of these windows are different, such as New York creating a one year compared to Vermont having an unlimited window. However, the creation of these laws by the state legislatures to empower survivors of child sex abuse will hold the perpetrators accountable and will encourage those affected to seek the remedies they are deserving of.

Lawsuits that have been Filed

Within the first 12 hours of the Act being enacted more than 400 claims were filed in New York State courts throughout all different counties. The state's civil courts have been preparing for the mass waves of litigation for months. In order to efficiently handle all of these claims, the courts have designated 45 judges, including 12 in New York City, to hear only child sex abuse cases. The purpose of assigning specific judges to the Child Victim Act cases is to ensure the consistent decisions and smooth case flow. It is expected that over 5,000 cases will be brought in the state over the course of this one-year time window. Similar steps have been taken before by the state court system when the state lawmakers made a similar adjustment to the statute of limitations for the "toxic tort" litigations.

Among the most notable defendants named in the claims already filed include the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, Rockefeller University and the estate of Jeffrey Epstein. The Catholic Church had been lobbying for years against the passing of this bill in New York, even spending over $3 million in efforts to dissuade lawmakers. The most disputed element of the legislation was the look-back window. However, once control of the state senate changed Democratic leadership, the Church dropped its opposition. The Act then passed unanimously.

The Child Victims Act has forced these institutions to release public statements acknowledging the pain the victims have gone through. The flood of claims against them has already dramatically swayed the public opinion in opposition of these institutions. However, they will still be challenging the victims' accounts in court.

The Catholic Archdiocese of New York has already sued its insurance providers to make sure they will cover claims against it. The Rockefeller University Hospital is pursuing a similar tactic in the hopes that they will be covered as well. The New York archdiocese has publicly stated that they do not expect to file for bankruptcy protection as a result of the CVA, although they noted "the fiscal impact on the Catholic Church and other organizations won't become clear for weeks or even months."

Next Steps for a Survivor

The passing and enactment of the Child Victims Act gives survivors much more freedom in bringing a civil lawsuit against their individual abusers and institutions. Survivors who have kept quiet for decades will now be able to come forward with their stories and obtain the justice and recovery the deserve. If you are the survivor of a child sexual abuse case, we encourage you to contact one of our attorneys at Rosenbaum & Rosenbaum, P.C. to shoulder the weight of your incident while you focus on healing. Contact our team today at (212) 514-5007 for your free and confidential case review.

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