Bill Making Sex Abuse Suits Easier Advances in Trenton

By Bob Jordan
Asbury Park Press
January 6, 2012

TRENTON An Assembly committee Thursday advanced a bill that could widen opportunities for lawsuits to be filed by adults who were victims of childhood sexual abuse.

The measure would eliminate the two-year statute of limitations for civil action on abuse acts and expand the categories of persons, beyond the predator, who could be held liable.

For instance, under the legislation trustees and employees of an organization who know about abuse but don't act to prevent it could be sued, but only if they have supervisory or oversight status over the person committing the offending act.

Bill sponsors said the need for action drew new attention after sex abuse charges came to light at Immaculata High School in Somerville and with former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky at Penn State University.

Numerous witnesses told the Assembly Judiciary Committee that the bill (A3622) is needed, including a Bayonne man, Mark Crawford, who said he was sexually abused by a priest beginning when he was 13.

Crawford, now 49, said by the time he came forward it was too late to prosecute or file a civil action because of the statute of limitations.

"I was abused as a teenager. It wasn't until I was 36 when my brother, who was also abused, experienced emotional turmoil that this became an issue for me," Crawford said.

The proposal, which is tentatively scheduled for full legislative votes on Monday, hit resistance from the two Republicans on the six-person panel during the hearing.

Assemblywoman Caroline Cassagrande, R-Monmouth, was granted amendments by majority Democrats to remove unsuspecting volunteer board members from liability but abstained during the voting.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, R-Morris, voted against, saying the bill's language makes charities and churches easy lawsuit targets, even for actions by rogue members.

But that component is of significant value, countered state Sen. Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex, the sponsor in the upper house, because it "serves as a hell of an incentive for these organizations to clean up their acts,'' he said.

Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, urged panel members to reconsider support.

The bill "would guarantee lawsuits for claims that are 30, 40 and 50 years old," and create "the promise of enormous windfalls for lawyers," he said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.