Discussions continue on child sexual abuse legislation as it moves close to completion

Maryland Matters [Takoma Park MD]

March 29, 2023

By William J Ford

Legislation that would lift deadlines for survivors of child sexual abuse to sue their abusers is closer to receiving approval by both chambers in the Maryland legislature.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) took questions on part of the bill, which would repeal the statute of limitations and cap liability for governments and school boards at $890,000.

Smith sponsored the legislation which the Senate approved March 16.

The measure increases the liability limit to $1.5 million for claims against private institutions for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. An amendment approved last week removes the cap for economic damages for costs of services such as therapy or medical treatment.

Del. Nicole Williams (D-Prince George’s) asked what settlement amounts have been agreed upon in cases where an organization is charged with abuse and later files for bankruptcy.

Kathryn Robb, executive director of Child USAdvocacy, said that, based on more than 200,000 cases assessed from the Boy Scouts of America and other groups, the average settlement amount was nearly $1.4 million and the average verdict was $3.4 million.

“We are seeing in bankruptcy these unsecured creditors, which is what these victims become,” said Robb who testified online. “The courts are looking to the statute of limitations within the jurisdiction where they were harmed. That’s why this piece of legislation is so important for those survivors.”

Attorney General Anthony Brown (D) said in an advice letter that the bill was “not clearly unconstitutional,” but likely to end up in a legal battle. However, he said he could “in good faith” defend it in court.

Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), an abuse survivor, has sponsored a similar bill in the House and has said the goal would be to conform to the Senate version so legislation can be  approved before the session adjourns April 10.

Wilson has been credited for work on such legislation dating back to 2017 when he successfully led a bill to extend the age limit from 25 to 38 for someone to sue for child sexual abuse.

Further attempts to change the law have passed in the House in recent years, but stalled in the Senate.

After Tuesday’s hearing Judiciary chair Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) said the committee plans to review the Senate version and possibly vote on it this week.

Meanwhile, Brown’s office is preparing to release findings of an investigation into alleged abuse by clergy in the state. The attorney general’s office said it’s “moving as expeditiously as possible” to release the report.

Outside the Judiciary committee room, David Lorenz of Prince George’s County thanked Smith for his work on the bill.

“Credit Del. C.T. Wilson on this [work]. Almost done,” Smith replied.

Lorenz, the Maryland director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also called SNAP, said he’s pleased legislation may finally get full approval and a signature from Gov. Wes Moore (D).

“I feel really good about this,” said Lorenz, who was sexually abused as a teenager at a private school in Kentucky. “I’m not going to be part of any litigation. This is all for the survivors. It’s want they want to do and I will be in full support.”