Arizona Supreme Court Upholds Extended Statute of Limitations Law in Sex Abuse Lawsuits
The Arizona Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of a 2019 state law, which extended the statute of limitations in child sex abuse lawsuits, allowing claims to be brought against the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts and other organizations that enabled the conduct, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.
Following the discovery in recent years that the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts and other organizations have covered up years of credible claims, about 30 states have enacted child sex abuse statute of limitation extensions, allowing survivors to hold organizations accountable even if their claims were previously time-barred.
The Arizona version of the law extends the statute of limitations for filing a civil complaint for sex abuse incidents which occurred when the plaintiff was below the age of 18. Previously, they had until age 20 to file a lawsuit over such incidents, but the new law extended that to age 30. In addition, the law opened a “window” that provided any alleged victim of child sex abuse until December 2020 to file a civil complaint, regardless of when the abuse happened.
The state law was challenged by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which claimed the law was unconstitutional. It and other large organizations with access to children, such as the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church, have been the main focus of such decades-old lawsuits filed in states across the country.
Child advocacy groups, such as Child USA, urged the Arizona Supreme Court to uphold the law.
“An extensive body of evidence establishes that childhood sexual abuse survivors are traumatized in a way that is distinguishable from victims of other crimes,” Child USA stated in an amicus brief filed in February. “These survivors may struggle to disclose their experiences due to effects of trauma and psychological barriers such as shame, self-blame, or fear, as well as social factors such as gender-based stereotypes or stigma regarding victimization.”
Two Maricopa County Superior Court judges had already rejected Big Brothers Big Sisters’ arguments that adjusting the statute of limitations was not within the power of the state legislature, and the state Supreme Court justices agreed with those previous rulings, affirming such changes were in the purview of state lawmakers.
The decision releases a stay on some of the state’s child sex abuse claims, which can now proceed.
Other states which have passed similar legislation include New York, New Jersey, California and others since August 2019. New York was the first to put such measures in place and received more than 10,000 claims before the window for filing on previously expired cases closed last year.
As child sex abuse lawyers continue to review and file claims over the coming months, the number of lawsuits filed nationwide is expected to increase, particularly in those states where “windows” in the statute of limitation have been opened for adult survivors to step forward and hold their abuse and the institutions that enabled the conduct accountable.
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