The New York Child Victims Act and its impact on insurers

Insurance Business Magazine

August 29, 2019

By Bethan Moorcraft

At 12:01am on Wednesday, August 14, the New York Child Victims Act came into effect, opening a one-year window for New Yorkers who claim they were molested or sexually abused as children to file claims and seek criminal and civil action against their alleged abusers. By 5:00am that same morning, 200 sexual abuse lawsuits had been filed, and by noon the number of claims had climbed to 385.

This flood of litigation, although it sounds dramatic, was expected ever since the New York State Legislature passed the Child Victims Act on Monday, January 28. As soon as institutions – like private schools, colleges and non-profit organizations – knew the statute was going to be enacted, they started reviewing their general liability insurance policies to see if they had coverage for potential claims.

Robin Cohen, head of McKool Smith’s insurance recovery litigation practice in New York, has been called upon by many institutions in the state to assist in this complex insurance process and mitigate any coverage disputes between policyholders and insurers over compensation for abuse victims. She told Insurance Business: “A lot of these sexual abuse claims date back to the 1960s and 1970s. They used to be barred by a statute of limitations, but because of the New York Child Victims Act, they’re no longer barred.

“The more recent general liability policies, starting in the 1980s, have a sexual abuse exclusion, so it could be complicated for litigators to get around that exclusion. But the policies that go back to the 1960s and 1970s do not have an exclusion. So, a lot of institutions have been trying to locate their old policies, and many have retained a lost policy specialist to help them do this. Another issue is that policies from the 1960s and 1970s usually have less per-occurrence limits, so I’ve been working closely with companies to work out how valuable their dated policies are.”

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