Child sex abuse victims get one-year window to launch New York lawsuits

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hundreds of people in New York state previously barred from filing lawsuits over alleged sexual abuse as children will go to court beginning on Wednesday after a new law temporarily lifted legal time limits.

The state’s landmark Child Victims Act passed earlier this year scraps, for one year starting Wednesday, the statute of limitations that had barred older complaints and critics said was too restrictive. The law is expected to lead to a torrent of lawsuits against churches, schools and youth groups.

“This bill will provide necessary relief to child victims of sexual abuse by amending New York’s antiquated laws to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions, regardless of when the crime occurred,” New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo's office said in a statement after he signed the measure into law.

The change in the law means people of any age in New York state have a year to file a retroactive sexual abuse lawsuit against an alleged offender. Child sexual abuse offenses could previously only be prosecuted within five years of their alleged occurrence.

Women who say they were sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein are expected to sue the disgraced financier's estate.

One law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, said it would file 400 lawsuits under the Child Victims Act just in New York City, with plaintiffs ranging from teenagers to people in their 90s. Statewide, the firm said it was representing more than 1,200 people who said they were sexually abused as children.

A separate group of law firms, including Seeger Weiss, said it would be representing at least 170 plaintiffs across the state, many with complaints against the Roman Catholic Church.

Cases are expected to be filed in the coming weeks against churches, schools, hospitals and other institutions across New York City with defendants ranging from the plaintiffs' relatives and neighbors to members of the clergy.

The Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church in particular have braced themselves for litigation made possible by the relaxing of New York's statute of limitations, which had previously been among the most stringent in the country.

Under the new law, after the one-year period, victims will henceforth have until the age of 55 to file a lawsuit against alleged abusers.

(Writing by Jonathan Allen, additonal reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

08/14/2019 10:36

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