Abuse Victims May Gain More Clout
State Bill Would End Limitation Statute in Civil Lawsuits

By Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News [Detroit MI]
August 21, 2003

Michigan could be the first in the nation to abolish the time frame for filing civil lawsuits stemming from child sexual abuse if a package of proposed bills is passed by the state Legislature.

The package, to be unveiled next month by Rep. Stephen R. Ehardt, R-Lexington, also proposes to remove the future time limits for filing criminal cases on sexual conduct with a minor.

Prompted by a string of allegations against Catholic priests, the bills would allow victims to pursue damages against the perpetrators, even if the crimes were committed beyond the current statute of limitations.

Previous criminal cases would still be subject to time limits, but future crimes would face no statute of limitations under the bills.

"Eliminating the statute of limitations is the absolute single most effective move a state can make toward preventing abuse," said David Clohessy, of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

"All across the country, where perpetrators can be criminally charged and supervisors can be civilly sued is where institutions take abuse prevention seriously and respond sensitively when a victim comes forward."

So far, California and Connecticut have changed their statute of limitations laws for civil suits stemming from child sexual abuse. But neither state has gone as far as the Michigan proposal.

The proposed bills are aimed at all child victims of criminal sexual misconduct, but were spawned by the Catholic priest scandal, which produced many predators that prosecutors could not charge criminally because the legal time clock had expired.

If the laws are passed, it would create an avenue for victims to seek justice through the civil courts, not only financially but also by being able to name the priests, who some fear may still be abusing children.

Paul Long of the Michigan Catholic Conference declined to comment on the bills until he had seen them.

Currently, the statute of limitations for civil suits expires when a victim reaches 19.

Lawmakers in 2001 abolished the criminal statute of limitations for first degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, which involves penetration.

For other sex crimes against children, the time frame for criminal sanctions is 10 years after the incident or the victim's 21st birthday, whichever is longer.

You can reach Kim Kozlowski at (313) 222-2024 or

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.