Child sexual abuse survivors prepare to file lawsuits under new state measure

Colorado Newsline [Denver, CO]

November 18, 2021

By Faith Miller

Lawmakers in the Colorado General Assembly passed legislation in June giving new power to people who’d survived sexual abuse decades ago — and survivors and their attorneys said Thursday they’re planning to move forward with several cases once the law takes effect in the new year.

The statute of limitations had expired for these survivors, leaving them without the ability to hold abusers accountable. But Senate Bill 21-88 represented a major victory for child sexual abuse survivors and their advocates after years of advocacy and several failed attempts at passing similar state legislation.

“I faced years of sexual abuse in a high school here in Denver from Catholic clergy,” said Brian Barzee, who spoke at a Nov. 18 news conference with his lawyer, Michael Nimmo, to raise awareness about SB-88. “It’s only because of this new law that any of us are ever going to have a voice against our offenders.”

Starting Jan. 1, 2022, survivors have three years to file state lawsuits against their long-ago abusers and the public or private institutions that turned a blind eye to that abuse. Colorado law previously required survivors to file a lawsuit over child sexual abuse within the six years following their 18th birthday. SB-88 created a new way for people are already older than 24 to sue over incidents that occurred as early as 1960.

“I am a survivor of multiple sexual assaults from my teacher as a child,” said Meg Hargett, another client of Nimmo’s who spoke at the news conference. “I was a child. I did not have the resources or the knowledge available to be brave and find my voice. … Our research also shows that the school knew about it, the school district knew about it, and did nothing.”

The three-year time limit for survivors to file suits over long-ago incidents was added to SB-88 in a last-minute change. However, the original version of the bill did not include a time limit, and Nimmo said he believed the 2025 deadline could be extended through future legislation.

SB-88 was sponsored by Sens. Jessie Danielson, a Wheat Ridge Democrat, and Don Coram, a Montrose Republican, along with Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat, and Matt Soper, a Republican from Delta. Gov. Jared Polis signed the bill into law in July.

Nimmo said his Denver firm was preparing to file several lawsuits on behalf of clients, including Barzee and Hargett, once SB-88 takes effect on Jan. 1.

The new law includes some limits on the amounts that can be paid in damages to plaintiffs who file claims over child sexual abuse. For government entities, the maximum payout is $500,000 per plaintiff. For other institutions, the limit is $1 million.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 21-73, also passed this year to remove the statute of limitations for all survivors who had not yet turned 24 by the bill’s effective date — Jan. 1, 2022 — and all future survivors of child sexual abuse in Colorado. The same group of legislators who sponsored SB-88 also backed SB-73, which Polis signed in April.

“It is well past time,” said Brie Franklin, the executive director of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, “for survivors to get justice and start healing, and for the institutions that knowingly covered up the abuse of children to be held accountable.”