Coram- and Soper-backed bill to lift statute of limitations on civil sex abuse claims advances

Montrose Press [Montrose CO]

February 25, 2021

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

A bill that would lift the statute of limitations for civil suits related to child sexual abuse handily cleared committee Wednesday, leaving its Western Slope sponsors hopeful of greater justice for victims.

Senator Don Coram, R-Montrose, with Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, are primary Senate sponsors of Senate Bill 73. Primary House sponsors are Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta County and Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Denver.

The bill is similar to one Coram advanced last year, only to see it held over indefinitely, with, he said, no explanation. He is optimistic SB-73, which he called his “second bite of the apple,” will pass.

The bill, “Civil Action Statute of Limitations Sexual Assault” would change existing law that precludes child sexual assault survivors from bringing a civil suit after six years of turning 18. In addition to lifting this statute of limitations, the bill would eliminate current restrictions on what damages can be recovered. Among other provisions, the bill would further eliminate the restriction that precludes a victim who is under disability or is in a special relationship with the perpetrator from bringing action against a defendant who is dead or incapacitated.

Senate Bill 73 also further defines sexual misconduct.

If the measure becomes law, victims of child sex crimes would be able to sue for any injury dating from Jan. 1, 2014, going forward, Coram said.

“Right now, the statute of limitations is six years for civil suits. Basically, the bill eliminates that,” he said.

“In the past, if there were criminal charges, then you had to wait for that settlement before you could even file a civil suit.”

Soper said the bill abolishes the statute of limitation for bringing a civil suit over the rape, sexual assault and sexual misconduct against a child. It also lifts the statute of limitations for bringing suit against institutions.

“A child typically would not be able to tell their story about being raped or sexually molested until much later in life. By that time, the statute of limitations would have expired,” said Soper, who had also backed the similar legislation last year.

Passing SB-73 would at least give victims the chance to have their cases heard in civil court, although it could not guarantee the outcome, he also said.

“But at least it means when they’re ready to tell their story and want to sue for damages, they would at least have that possibility,” Soper said.

He reiterated that the bill applies only to those who were under 18 when they were sexually abused. Current law only gives such victims six years in which to file suit after reaching the age of 18, he said.

“I think it (the bill) is very important, because a lot of these crimes happen to very small children. They go through a lot of trauma and situations,” Coram said.

“Twenty years down the road, there’s post-traumatic stress, all kinds of issues, and there’s no recourse for them. Sometimes, it can be very expensive to get treatment.”

Healing from sexual trauma has no timeline, Raana Simmons, director of Public Affairs for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said in a news release.

“The civil legal system is the single system designed to provide survivors with the financial resources they need to cover the costs of things like counseling, medical care, and other issues caused by sexual assault,” she said.

“Survivors in Colorado deserve the ability to access the civil legal system on their own schedule. We’re hopeful that Colorado’s State Senators will recognize the need to eliminate the civil statute of limitation sexual assault and vote ‘yes’ on Senate Bill 73.”

Soper pointed to a companion bill introduced by Danielson, which he also supports, Senate Bill 88, the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act.

This bill — which Soper said he expects to be extensively amended and refined — would create a new right of civil action targeting institutions accused of protecting predators.

“It’s a creative way to try to get institutions like the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, the Olympic Committee and even our schools to help provide evidence, not harbor predators,” Soper said.

Institutions can avoid civil liability if they create a victims’ fund, much like the Catholic Church has done, he said.

“If these institutions were to do things like this, then they would be granted immunity from the civil action. It has both a reward and a punishment (component),” Soper said.

“It’s an attempt to definitely ensure we give victims an opportunity to at least change institutions in Colorado going forward.”

In the meantime, Soper and Coram are pleased to see SB-73 pass unanimously through the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. It has moved to the Committee of the Whole on the consent calendar; the next hearing date is pending.

The two legislators also hailed the bipartisanship and geographic diversity behind the bill.

“It really shows how we take this very seriously and we want to make sure victims have their day in court. We’re talking about child victims and I think that’s just far different,” Soper said.