Sexual Abuse Victims get Broader Protections
May 1, 2019
Francine Foner, Esq., Ty Hyderally, Esq.
On March 25, 2019, both houses of the New Jersey Legislature passed by a vote of 70-01 a bill which extends the statute of limitations in civil actions for sexual abuse claims, as well as create a two-year window for parties to bring previously time-barred actions based on sexual abuse.
In addition, as noted in the Senate’s statement on the bill, the law will “expand the categories of potential defendants in civil actions, and for some actions permit retroactive application of standards of liability to past acts of abuse for which liability did not previously exist.” The law will apply to lawsuits filed beginning on December 1, 2019, the effective date of the bill. Governor Murphy is expected to sign the bill into law in the near future.
The law amends the current law’s general 2-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims under N.J.S. 2A:14-12, to greatly extend the statute of limitations applicable to sexual abuse claims. Some of the highlights of the new law include:
Adults who suffered sexual abuse as children, i.e., under age 18, would have until age 55, or within seven years of discovering the injury and its cause to file a lawsuit. The bill also would similarly extend the statute of limitations to file lawsuits by children who are intentionally subjected to sexual exploitation through child pornography. The new law also amends the Child Sexual Abuse Act, C.2A:61B-1, to similarly extend the statute of limitations period for child victims of abuse by both “active” abusers and “passive” abusers. The latter include family members who, while not engaging in the abuse themselves, “knowingly permit or acquiesce” to the abuse.
The bill also amends the Charitable Immunity Act, C.2A:53A-7, to permit additional retroactive liability of non-profit organizations for willful, wanton or grossly negligent acts resulting in abuse that occurred prior to August 8, 2006.
For adult victims of sexual abuse occurring prior to, on or after the bill’s effective date, December 1, 2019, a lawsuit must be filed within seven years of discovering the injury and its cause.
Adult and Child Victims
Public entities can no longer raise the defense of governmental immunity for injuries resulting from sexual abuse, or require that a tort claims notice be filed within 90 days. Rather, for sexual abuse claims, public entities are treated as if they were private entities and subject to the same age 55 or within seven years of discovery statute of limitations.
In addition, the Act creates a two-year window for lawsuits to be filed for acts of sexual abuse that occurred prior to the bill’s effective date which would otherwise be time-barred, even after applying (retroactively) the new, extended statute of limitations.
The new law will have far reaching implications and likely result in numerous lawsuits, as it greatly expands the number of victims who can file lawsuits for conduct previously barred by statutory time limits and immunity provisions.
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1 With 5 abstains and 4 not voting.