Up until a few months ago, victims of sexual assault were often prevented from seeking to hold their abusers accountable in court because of the state of limitations. After years of fighting, however, a new law in NJ that will go into effect at the end of 2019 offers such victims of child sexual abuse the ability to sue their abusers up until they become 55 years-old, or within seven years of their realization that the abuse caused them harm. Additionally, the law allows victims who were previously barred by the prior statute of limitations two years to file lawsuits seeking damages.
Sexual abuse victims had been contacting their legislators for many years to get the laws changed, without success. The Catholic Church had been fighting the passage of this bill, arguing that evidence may not be trustworthy from years ago and it would strain them financially.
Many will recall that last year, the Attorney General from Pennsylvania released a report detailing decades of abuse and coverup by the Catholic Church in that state. That eye-opening report paved the way to the passage of New Jersey’s bill. Additionally, earlier this year, the Catholic Church in New Jersey released the names of almost 200 priests and deacons who were credibly accused of sexually abusing children.
Even more recently, NJ Governor Murphy signed an additional bill that establishes liability standards in sexual abuse claims filed against public entities and public employees. This was considered a companion bill to the bills mentioned above. Under this new law, “Any immunity from civil liability granted to a public entity … or public employee shall not apply to an action at law claiming that a willful, wanton or grossly negligent act of a public entity or public employee resulted in a sexual assault, any other crime of a sexual nature, a prohibited sexual act as defined in section 2 of P.L.1992, c.7 (C.2A:61B-1) being committed against a person.”
(For the attorneys who may be interested: the clean-up legislation was A-5392 and S-4749. The original bill signed in May 2019 was S-477.)
Fortunately, the passage of these bills allows sexual abuse victims’ voices to be heard.
If you have been the victim of sexual abuse and would like to learn more about your legal rights, please contact us for a free and confidential consultation.
Michael S. Raff, Esq.