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New York courts are weathering another influx of child sexual abuse lawsuits being filed as the original deadline approaches for individuals to bring claims that were previously time-barred by the statute of limitations, as many are uncertain whether COVID-19 related extensions to those deadlines will hold up in court or the legislature.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo originally signed the Child Victims Act into law in February 2019, as part of an effort to allow survivors of sex abuse as a child to pursue damages from the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America and other large institutions that took active measures in prior years to suppress claims and prevent individuals from coming forward.
The law provided a one-year opening of the New York statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims that would have previously been barred. Individuals were provided a 365 days “grace period” to file a claim, starting August 14, 2019, regardless of when the sexual abuse occurred, or the current age of the victim. The law also extended the statute of limitations for future sex abuse claims in New York until the victim reaches the age of 55.
According to media reports, New York courts have seen at least 1,000 new cases filed since May 2020, and hundreds more are expected over the next three weeks before the original deadline.
However, there is confusion on when the clock will truly run out for individuals who have not yet come forward.
In May, Cuomo announced an executive order due to the COVID-19 pandemic, extending the deadline until January 14, 2021. State lawmakers have also passed a bill that would extend the deadline a full additional year, to August 2021. However, Cuomo has not yet signed it into law.
Lawmakers are urging him to do so, saying the executive order extension may be beyond the scope of the governor’s legal authority and could be overturned by the state’s Supreme Court. This has led to many firms pushing to file cases before the original deadline to protect their clients’ claims in case none of the extensions happen or hold up in court.
New York was one of the first states to extend the child sex abuse statute of limitations, but similar legislation has been passed or introduced in a number of states nationwide.
Since August 2019, hundreds of previously barred claims have been filed in numerous states. However, 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 New York, New Jersey, California and other 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.