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A number of states nationwide have passed legislation that extends the statute of limitations in child sex abuse lawsuits, and both Maryland and New Hampshire are among the latest to revisit laws that have barred individuals from pursuing claims against their assailants and institutions that spent decades covering up rampant problems with childhood sexual molestation.
New York was the first state to provide additional time for individuals with previously barred claims to pursue claims, with the state’s Child Victims Act going into effect in August, providing abuse survivors until the age of 55 to file a lawsuit, and opening a one-year “window” for previously time-barred claims to be filed. As a result of the change, at least 1,300 lawsuits were filed in New York between August 14, 2019 and the end of last year.
Overall, 23 states made some changes to statute of limitation laws regarding child sex abuse last year, with the most sweeping examples found in New York, New Jersey and California.
In Maryland, Delegate C.T. Wilson is now proposing the Hidden Predator Act (HB 974), which was introduced on February 20 and would remove the statute of limitations entirely on child sex abuse civil lawsuits, providing individuals who were previously barred from filing a lawsuit an ability to pursue their claim, regardless of how long ago the incidents happened.
A similar bill, SB 508, has been proposed in New Hampshire, which would also eliminate any statute of limitations restrictions on child sex abuse civil claims. That proposed law would also prevent any government entity from claiming immunity from such lawsuits.
The revisions come amid growing recognition that large institutions like the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America and other entities have covered up for known or suspected child sex abusers for decades, and actively worked to prevent individuals from preventing claims.
The movement has given new life to the Hidden Predator Act in Maryland, which has been defeated in previous legislatures, but whom observers say has a much better chance of passage this time.
Last year the bill stalled in the Senate, but the Maryland Senate is under new leadership this year, which some say puts the bill in a better position to pass. If passed, the bill would bring civil child sexual abuse laws more in line with its criminal laws. Maryland has no statute of limitations on bringing criminal charges over child sex abuse claims.
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 states where the statute of limitation laws are relaxed.