Assembly Panel Approves Bill to Remove Statute of Limitations on Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

By Matt Friedman
January 5, 2012

An Assembly panel has approved a bill to remove the state’s two-year statute of limitations on lawsuits for child sexual abuse.

TRENTON — An Assembly panel has approved a bill to remove the state's two-year statute of limitations on lawsuits for child sexual abuse.

Under current law, adult victims of childhood abuse have two years to bring suit against individuals or institutions from the point when they realize it damaged them. The measure (S2405) would allow them to file suit no matter how much time has passed, against individuals and institutions – public, private, for-profit and non-profit.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee voted four to one to approve it, with one abstention. A different version cleared a Senate panel a year ago, but had stalled until now.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), said it would allow victims "essentially unfettered access" to the courts. He said he expects it to be posted for a vote in both the Assembly and Senate on Monday.

The measures is opposed by the Catholic Church and a tort reform group, whose representatives have questioned how institutions can defend themselves against charges of abuse that allegedly occurred decades ago.

"At some point in time the chances for an error become too great, the difficulty in responding to allegations becomes too hard for someone going a certain number of years back," said Cary Silverman, counsel to the American Tort Reform Association. "The witnesses may be gone. The records may be gone ... The perpetrator may be dead."

Annette Nestler, a facilitator at Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said as a seven year old she witnessed her father kill himself as a result of sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Later, she said, she was raped by a state psychologist who was supposed to help her cope with the trauma.

"There have never been any kind of criminal charges brought to this man but he took an oath to help people," she said. "And what he did to me when I went for help – I can show you documents that that man was at both my parents funerals – both of them – and this is what he did, and this is what I have to live with forever."

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll opposed the bill because he said it could lead to charities and churches being unable to offer services to those in need.

"We are visiting the consequences on evil, criminal actions upon other innocent people," he said. And that ... I believe is a fundamental error."

Vitale said he knew of no churches that had to shut down in five other states that have abolished the statute of limitations in such cases: Connecticut, Maine, Alaska, Florida and Delaware.

"There hasn't been to my knowledge any institution, religious or otherwise, that has been negatively impacted, financially at least," he said.


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