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February 26, 2018

Potential Fifty Year Statute of Limitations For Civil Claims For Sexual Offenses

Recently, there has been a national outpouring of sexual abuse claims made or disclosed by victims as a result of sexual predators. Sexual predators, despite being in trusted or influential positions do not discriminate when it comes to their victims, but over the years, victims have been restricted to a five year time period in making civil claims against the sexual predator for physical, psychological or other injuries or conditions suffered by the victim.

Currently, under the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules ("NY CPLR") section 213-c entitled, Action by victim of conduct constituting certain sexual offenses, a sexual abuse victim has a five year time period from the date of the abuse to make civil claims against the sexual predator for physical, psychological or other injuries. Sexual abuse can be categorized as: rape, criminal sexual act; luring a child, sexual misconduct, sodomy; forcible touching; persistent sexual abuse; aggravated sexual abuse; and course of sexual conduct against a child. Historically, sexual abuse victims were apprehensive, reluctant or fearful of coming forward with any claim due to the shame, embarrassment, guilt, blame, fault, and remorse experienced as a result of the sexual abuse.

Certain New York State lawmakers, lobbyists, and activists have repeatedly attempted to pass legislation such as the Child Victims Act which would expand the legal recourses available to sexual abuse victims, including increasing the time period for the victim to file a civil claim. The Plaintiff's bar, advocacy organizations, survivor groups, and victims' rights organizations have aggressively pushed for an increased time period to file such claims, while insurance lobbyists, organized churches and religious groups of all denominations, and certain long-serving embedded community organizations have opposed such an idea. To date, the attempts to increase the time period have repeatedly failed. As recent as January 2017, multiple pieces of legislation were proposed that considered increasing the time period to file a civil claim from five to fifteen years, but no legislation was passed.

In the wake of the Dr. Larry Nassar scandal, the #METOO movement, and the numerous open discussions on widespread nationwide sexual abuse - the issue of the time period to file a civil claim has received heightened scrutiny. Certain New York legislators are looking to protect its citizens, deter predators, and provide victims more time to have the strength, courage and ability to make civil claims against the sexual predator for their physical, psychological and other inflicted trauma by increasing the time period to file a civil claim from five years to fifty years. On the other hand, a statute of limitations stretching back for a half-century, carries with it a host of concerns involving evidentiary issues, missing and deceased witnesses, insurance coverage and fundamental fairness.

Barclay Damon LLP will continue to monitor this issue and report any new legislation in relation to same. This issue illustrates the delicate nature of providing sexual abuse victims recourse for the deplorable acts of sexual predators, while protecting individuals and institutions from lawsuits from incidents that occurred decades earlier.


If you require further information regarding the content of this Legal Alert, please contact either of the Co-Chairs of the Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area, Thomas J. Drury, at (716) 858-3845 or tdrury@barclaydamon.com, or Matthew J. Larkin, at (315) 425-2805 or mlarkin@barclaydamon.com.

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