Following the example of New York, California may be the next state to reform its statute of limitation for child sex abuse victims.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has introduced Assembly Bill 218, which would change California’s existing time limits for civil lawsuits for child sexual assault in several ways. The bill would:
- Extend the basic statute of limitations to file a civil lawsuit against an abuser or an organization that allowed the abuse from age 26 to age 40;
- Allow adult victims over 40 to file lawsuits within five years (instead of the current three years) of when they “discover or reasonably should have discovered” that they suffered damages as a result of the sexual assault;
- Create a three-year “window” for anyone, no matter what age, to bring a civil lawsuit, even if their claims had been barred by earlier statutes of limitations; and
- Allow a court to award recovery of up to treble damages from a defendant who engaged in a cover up of past abuse that caused the sexual assault of the victim.
California had a similar one-year window for sex abuse claims in 2003. But many people did not come forward to make claims during that window. In particular, most men who had been abused or sexually exploited when they were kids in Boy Scouts did not come forward in 2003 because there had been little or no news then about abuse in the Boy Scouts. Only since then did news break of the Boy Scouts of America’s secret files on accused child molesters, the “Ineligible Volunteer” or “Perversion” files. Only in 2012 were over 1,200 of these files made public by order of the Oregon Supreme Court and put on the internet.
“The idea that someone who is assaulted as a child can actually run out of time to report that abuse is outrageous,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. “More and more, we’re hearing about people who were victims years ago but were not ready to come forward to tell their story until now. We shouldn’t be telling victims their time is up when in reality we need them to come forward to protect the community from future abuse.”
Earlier efforts to extend the time limits for civil lawsuits and open another window for old claims were vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2013 and 2017. Lawmakers are hopeful that Governor Gavin Newsom will be more supportive of this latest bill.
If it passes, Assembly Bill 218 window will give anyone, regardless of age, the right to bring a claim for child sexual assault. That window will only be open for a short time. As proposed now, the window will be three years. We will track the bill to see what the final version is.
New York passed a similar bill this week and Governor Coumo is expected to sign it into law shortly. New York’s law will have a one-year window to bring old claims.
If California passes a similar law with a window for old claims, the Boy Scouts of America may file for bankruptcy to deal with claims made against it. Bankruptcy does not mean the Boy Scouts would go out of business. It just means that claims against the Boy Scouts would be handles in bankruptcy court. See this page for more information about a BSA bankruptcy or call us with questions.