Maryland Lawmakers Propose Ending Statute of Limitations on Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
Last week, survivors of child sex abuse in Maryland spoke out at a hearing in the state legislature, in support of a proposed law that would remove the statute of limitations for when civil lawsuits can be brought.
On February 23, the Maryland Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee held a hearing on the proposed Child Victims Act of 2023, which, if passed, would remove time restrictions that limit how long an individual has to file a lawsuit against the perpetrators or entities that enabled the abuse.
A similar bill, the Hidden Predator Act, was crafted in a way that was similar to laws which passed in states like New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and California, which provided a two-year window to file sexual abuse claims regardless of how long the incidents occurred. However, while it has been introduced in a number of state legislative sessions, it has never passed the state senate.
The laws passed in other states resulted in thousands of child abuse lawsuits being filed by survivors, who sometimes waited decades to do so. However, this latest bill being proposed in Maryland would remove of the statute of limitations on child sexual assault claims permanently, instead of the two-year windows provided by other states. It appears to have greater support in the state senate, being sponsored by State Senator Will Smith, who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Many of those who testified at the hearing were survivors of child sex abuse within the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, which was subject of a four-year investigation by Maryland Attorney General Brian Fosh. In December, Fosh asked a state judge permission to release the report. Last Friday, the judge granted that request.
The report was generated, in part, through an investigation of hundreds of thousands of documents dating back to the 1940s, which were turned over to a Grand Jury as part of the investigation. The court, however, had to approve release of the report before it could be shown to the public.
“We are pleased with the Court’s order today permitting the interim release of a redacted version of the Attorney General’s report on the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” Fosh said in a press release (PDF) issued on Friday. “The Office will move expeditiously to comply with the court’s order and prepare a redacted copy of the Report to be released upon review and approval by the Court.”
The new legislation, however, was just introduced, and it is unclear yet what it’s chances of passing both chambers and being signed into law will be. According to media reports, the Maryland Catholic Conference says it would support a bill that eliminates future statute of limitations, but does not support allowing lawsuits that would have been affected by current statute of limitation laws retroactively.
Widespread Child Sex Abuse In the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts
The legislation in Maryland and other states comes amid child sexual abuse problems throughout the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America, who have faced tens of thousands of lawsuits as a result. The Boy Scouts, which maintained a list of sexual predators who served as volunteers or employees of the organization, known as the “perversion files,” was ultimately driven into bankruptcy by the allegations, and is still trying to negotiate a settlement which would move it out of bankruptcy.
Facing clear signs of massive liability, Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy in 2020, to manage and resolve the mounting litigation, which has become the largest sex abuse case involving a single national organization in U.S. history.
In September, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Laurie Silverstein, of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, approved plans to create a $2.46 billion victim’s fund negotiated by abuse survivors, the Boy Scouts, insurers and some of the organization’s main backers.
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