ALBANY, NY (AP) — Survivors of adult sexual assault who failed to meet legal deadlines to sue their abusers would have a second chance to sue under a bill that has received approval Monday’s final of the New York legislature.
Once in effect, the Adult Survivors Act would give victims of sexual abuse a one-year window in which the state’s usual statute of limitations for civil lawsuits would be overturned.
The bill is modeled after New York’s now-expired Child Victims Act, which gave people a similar second chance to sue for childhood sexual abuse. This window was originally scheduled to last one year, but was extended twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
By the time this widow closed, more than 9,000 lawsuits had been filed, many against institutions such as churches, schools, camps and scout groups.
Abuse survivor advocates had been pushing for a similar look-back window for those abused at age 18 or older.
“Sexual assault steals a piece of a person’s soul, whether you’re 6, 16 or 60,” said the bill’s lead sponsor in the House, Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan.
“All survivors of sexual abuse deserve justice and to have their day in the courts,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, also a Democrat.
The state Assembly approved the bill by a 140-3 vote on Monday after it was passed by the state Senate last month. It is now directed to Governor Kathy Hochul, who said she intends to sign it.
The look-back window for the lawsuits will begin six months after Hochul signs the bill.
It is unclear whether the law would have as big of an impact as the Child Victims Act, which has created a wave of litigation that could take years to resolve. Several Roman Catholic dioceses in the state have declared bankruptcy amid the torrent of abusive clergy lawsuits. Similar laws involving children in other states have also resulted in lawsuits elsewhere, a factor in the Boy Scouts of America’s 2020 bankruptcy.
This law, however, only applied to people who were under 18 when they were abused, based on a theory that at a young age one could not expect they tell a court what happened to them.
Many lawmakers were initially reluctant to open a similar window for people sexually assaulted as adults, believing they were better able to defend themselves in court.
Usually, states impose time limits on how long a person can wait to file a civil lawsuit because it becomes more difficult to hold a fair trial as witness memories fade and evidence is lost. .