Last year, Governor Andrews Cuomo signed into law legislation that dramatically extends the time period for survivors of childhood sexual assault to sue for damages. The Child Victims Act (CVA) also allows claims against the institutions who may be responsible for the abuse. In this post we will examine the law and important developments in 2020.
Under the old law, victims of childhood sexual abuse had between 1 and 5 years to bring a claim for monetary damages. The clock began to run the day the survivor turned 18. [New York Civil Practice Law and Rules 213-c, N.Y.C.P.L.R. 213-B, N.Y.C.P.L.R. 214 & 215, N.Y.C.P.L.R 208]
Unfortunately, behavioral health specialists have long known that it often takes years before survivors could come to terms with their trauma. By then it was often too late. The victims were victimized again, this time by archaic laws. That all changed in 2019.
Under the terms of the New York Child Victims Act, survivors can file claims until their 55th birthday. The intent of the law is to ensure all young victims of sexual assault can seek justice.
In passing the law, legislators also added a provision to help victims whose claims had already expired. The law now allows survivors of child sexual abuse who were unable to file a lawsuit under the old law – to have a 1 year window or “look back” period during which they can file a lawsuit.
The one year period began six months after Governor Cuomo signed the law. That date was February 14, 2019 meaning survivors who had previously been told that it was too late to file could do so during the one year lookback between August 14, 2019 and August 14, 2020.
New York Grants Second Extension to File Sexual Assault Claims
Because of COVID-19, New York extended the one year special look back period by another 12 months. Now claims can be filed until August 14, 2021.
This may be your last opportunity to file. If you have been sitting on the fence, now is the time to act!
The governor’s office says over 3000 survivors have come forward. But there are fears that many more remain. In a prepared statement, N.Y. Senator Brad Hoylman said,
"[I]t's clear many New Yorkers who survived child sexual abuse haven't come forward — especially during the COVID-19 crisis which has upended our courts and economy… credit goes to the fearless survivors of child sexual abuse, who courageously shared their personal stories in order that more New Yorkers would have the chance to hold their abusers and the institutions that harbored them accountable."
Claims Against Institutions
Equally important are the new provisions which allow survivors to sue public and private institutions. To best understand this provision, we will use an example.
John was molested by a guard at a juvenile detention facility in 1990. He turned 18 in 1994 meaning for him, the time to file had long expired. The one year lookback now lets him sue.
The guard that molested him was in his 50’s at the time of the assault. That means he is now in his 80’s. While suing the guard may help bring some closure, any jury award could be difficult to collect. We will assume that if the guard is even still alive, he probably has no income and few assets to satisfy a judgment.
Under the Child Victims Act, John can bring a claim against the facility that employed the guard. Assuming that it can be shown that the facility failed to investigate reports of sexual misconduct or didn’t do a proper background check, the facility may also be responsible. (Under the old law, victims had a very short period to file notices of claim against public institutions such as juvenile detention facilities and schools.)
Criminal Time Periods Extended
The CVA also extends the time period for victims to pursue criminal charges. Under the old law, criminal charges had to be brought by the time the victim reached age 20 for misdemeanors and 23 for felonies. Those time periods have been extended to allow victims more time to press criminal charges; 25 years of age for misdemeanors and 28 for felonies.
Are You a Survivor of a Sexual Assault?
Our sexual assault victims’ attorneys* and national network represent sexual abuse and sexual assault victims. Whether you were assaulted at church, school, by a doctor, by a coach, by a teacher, at a nursing home or by a co-worker, we can help.
To learn more, visit our Sexual Assault Survivors page. Ready to see if you have a case, contact us directly for a no obligation, no pressure confidential consultation. Contact attorney Brian Mahany online, by email at [hidden email] or by phone at 888.249.6944.
Summary of the Child Victim’s Act
- Increases the amount of time during which perpetrators of these crimes may be held criminally accountable;
- Allows victims of these crimes to commence a civil lawsuit at any time before they reach 55 years of age;
- Provides survivors seeking to file actions against public and private institutions for previously time-barred claims a new opportunity for their day in court by opening a one- time window through August 14, 2010.
- Eliminates the need to file a notice of claim for sexual offenses committed against a minor;
- Requires judicial training with respect to crimes involving the sexual abuse of minors;
- Authorizes the Office of Court Administration to promulgate rules and regulations for the timely adjudication of revived actions.
* Attorney Brian Mahany is a former police officer, prosecutor, and board member of the Family Violence Project. He is also a former volunteer with the Sexual Assault Crisis and Assault Center.