Maryland Childhood Sex Abuse Lawsuits Filed in Days After New Law Lifts Statute of Limitations Restrictions
This week, dozens of childhood sex abuse lawsuits have already been brought in Maryland state courts, after a new law took effect on October 1, allowing claims to be filed against sexual abusers and institutions that enabled the conduct, regardless of how long ago it occurred.
The Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023 was enacted in April, and went into effect on Sunday, removing all statute of limitations restrictions on civil claims involving sexual abuse of children in the state.
While the state courts have only been open for two days since the new measure took effect, multiple reports highlight the growing wave of complaints filed so far. Many of the lawsuits target the Baltimore Archdiocese and other churches that exposed children to known sexual predators, but there are also claims brought against the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and other institutions, such as private schools.
Baltimore Archdiocese Bankruptcy Filing
In response to the anticipated flood of litigation, the Baltimore Archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late last week. In a letter to church members, Archbishop William E. Lori cited the new Maryland law as the driving factor in the archdiocese’ bankruptcy filing.
The Maryland state legislature passed the Child Victims Act just days after a long-awaited Baltimore Archdiocese child sex abuse report was released by the Maryland Attorney General, which detailed information about Catholic priests that abused children in Maryland over the last 60 years, including the names of 146 priests, deacons, seminarians and others who have been credibly accused by more than 300 victims and witnesses that came forward during the investigation.
The Maryland Catholic Church has previously threatened to challenge the constitutionality of the new law. However, if the challenges are unsuccessful, the Baltimore Archdiocese was likely to face thousands of lawsuits over prior decisions to protect priests who were known predators, and allow them to have continued access to vulnerable young children.
The Baltimore Archdiocese bankruptcy filing indicates the organization’s assets are valued between $100 million and $500 million. However, the church estimates it faces between $500 million to $1 billion in liabilities.
Maryland Juvenile Services Also Targeted
According to a report by the Washington Post, 50 plaintiffs immediately filed six separate lawsuits against Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services as soon as the law went into effect, indicating they were sexually abused while incarcerated by the state. The lawsuits have been filed by people who served sentences as children in at least six Maryland juvenile facilities over the last 50 years.
The plaintiffs reportedly accuse the state of failing to protect children from rape or molestation while under state care, and indicates that putting them in state care is what led to their sexual abuse, with some suffering rape and molestation as young as seven years old while stewards of the state.
The complaint accuses the state of neglect in safeguarding children under its care, failing to detect and remove sexual predators working for the state, and failing to take reasonable measures to prevent the abuse from occurring.
Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023
For years, lawmakers attempted to change the Maryland child sex abuse statute of limitations, which previously prevented most survivors from pursuing lawsuits.
Supporters of the legislation argued that removing the Maryland statute of limitations on child sex abuse claims was necessary, since many survivors are not prepared to address the conduct until much later in life. In addition, the Catholic Church has been notorious for covering up credible allegations, discrediting child survivors of abuse and pressuring devoted families from pursuing any action against priests or other members of the clergy.
After a two year window in the New York child sex abuse statute of limitations was opened in 2020, tens of thousands of claims were brought against the Boy Scouts, Catholic Church and other entitles throughout the state. The Buffalo Diocese alone had at least 230 Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing minors, with eight specific priests accounting for more than 1,000 lawsuits filed in that part of the state.
While statute of limitations laws have also been enacted in a number of other states, including New Jersey, California and Louisiana, other states are still debating similar bills that would allow survivors to hold abusers and entities that enabled their conduct accountable.
The Maryland Child Victims Act includes a provision that an interlocutory appeal may be immediately pursued following any order denying a motion to dismiss based on a defense that the Maryland statute of limitations or statute of repose bars the claim, or that the legislative action reviving the claim is unconstitutional.
An interlocutory appeal allows the higher courts to consider the case before any final judgment is rendered in the trial court. While this measure will introduce substantial delays before survivors of sexual abuse are able to obtain justice, it will also avoid the need for each individual to recount their trauma at trial before the Maryland Supreme Court evaluates the constitutionality of the new law.
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