Assembly Panel Advances Bill To Help Victims Of Sexual Abuse

TRENTON – An Assembly committee released legislation today to eliminate the statute of limitations in civil sexual abuse claims.

The bill (A-3622) would remove the statue of limitations in civil actions for sexual abuse, expand the category of person who are potentially liable in these actions, and provide that public entities would be liable in these actions.

“Many young victims of sexual abuse don’t report their abusers out of fear or shame; others repress the memories as a way to cope with the abuse,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union). “The impact of sexual abuse on children can be devastating and long-lasting. These victims should have the right to compensation for the suffering endured without a timeline looming over their heads.”

“For some victims, the sexual abuse is revealed later in life. But the time that may have transpired does not change the fact that the abuse happened, nor the consequences it had on the victim,” said Assemblyman Peter Barnes (D-Middlesex). “I can only imagine how difficult it must be to come to grips with the abuse and come forward. These victims deserve justice, regardless of the time lapsed.”

Under current law, personal injury suits must be filed within two years of accrual of the cause of action, except for certain medical malpractice actions on behalf of minors. Under the bill, this two-year statute of limitations would be removed for the following actions:
· alleged sexual abuse of a minor;
· alleged willful, wanton or grossly negligent act of commission or omission, including sexual assault or other crime of a sexual nature, brought against a trustee, director, officer, employee, agent, servant or volunteer of a nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes;
· alleged sexual offense committed against a minor due to alleged willful, wanton, grossly negligent or negligent act of commission or omission of a sexual nature brought against any nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes.

The bill would also make public entities liable in actions for damages alleging sexual abuse, and expand the category of persons who are potentially liable in a civil action alleging the sexual abuse of a minor.

Under current law, in addition to the person who committed the sexual abuse, a parent, resource family parent such as a foster parent, guardian or other person standing in loco parentis within the household who knowingly permitted or acquiesced in the sexual abuse is also civilly liable for the abuse. However, it is an affirmative defense if that person was subjected to, or placed in, reasonable fear of physical or sexual abuse by the abuser so as to undermine the person’s ability to protect the child. The bill would provide that any person who knowingly permitted or acquiesced in the sexual abuse is civilly liable as well. This person would also be entitled to the same affirmative defense.

The bill would apply to any action filed on or after the effective date, including but not limited to matters where the statute of limitations has expired and matters filed with a court that have not yet been dismissed or finally adjudicated as of the effective date.

The bill would also revive any action that was previously dismissed on grounds that the applicable statute of limitations had expired, but could not revive any action previously dismissed on any other grounds or revive any action that has been finally adjudicated.

The bill was released 4-1-1 by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

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