It’s officially open season on pedophiles.
A new law allowing victims of childhood sexual abuse to get their day in court took effect Wednesday morning, providing victims who were prohibited from filing suit due to statute of limitations with a one year “look back” period to exact justice against their attackers
“We know from statistics that a lot of survivors of childhood sexual abuse don’t come froward until their 50s,” said litigation attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel, speaking of the Childhood Victim’s Act which passed in February. “They deserve to have their own day in court — and justice.”
Previously, victims who suffered abuse as minors had five years following their 18th birthday to file a civil action against sexual predators and the institutions which harbored them. The new law opens the floodgates for victims who were previously barred from seeking restitution, according to Tuegel, who will be litigating abuse cases on behalf of the law firm Seeger Weiss.
“It will be in the hundreds — if not thousands — by the time it’s all said and done,” she said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
Many individual abusers will face lawsuits under the new law, but the bigger impact will be on the organizations that employed and protected them, according to Tuegel.
“It’s mostly institutions… but we would name the individual perpetrator along with the institution, if they are still alive,” she said. “The institution is often the one that allowed it to go on for so long.”
Tuegel expects the Catholic Church — which spent more than $2 million lobbying against the Childhood Victim’s Act in New York — will be a prime target under the new law, and the attorney noted that the Archdiocese of New York pro-actively sued insurance companies following the passage of the bill to ensure coverage of monetary settlements for abuse claims resulting from the new law.
“Some dioceses may have to declare bankruptcy,” said Tuegel. “We’ve dealt with that in other sexual abuse litigation, and we’re expect that could happen with some of the smaller dioceses.”
Other likely defendants include the Boy Scouts of America, along with educational and sports organizations, Tuegel said.
In addition to the year-long look back period, the new law also expands the statute of limitations for future cases brought after the year-long look back period — allowing future victims to bring civil suits against abusers 37 years, and criminal complaints 10 years following their 18th birthday.
And while the majority of litigants come to the courts demanding a monetary settlement, what truly motivates them is the desire for closure and peace, said Tuegel.
“A lot of clients, when they call us and tell us they want to hire an attorney, [money] isn’t part of the discussion,” she said. “They are very much motivated by having dealt with this their whole lives, and feeling like the opening of this statute gives them the ability to demand accountability.”