Champlain Valley Law October 2019

www.champlainvalleylaw.com

OCTOBER 2019

Positive Changes for Abuse Survivors A Breakdown of the Child Victims Act and H.330 99 Maple Street | Middlebury | VT | 05753 • 57 Court Street | Plattsburgh | NY | 12901 802-465-4012 • 518-594-6046 Champlain Val ley Law R. Drew Palcsik Attorney at Law PLLC

The statute of limitations has long been a barrier for survivors of childhood sexual abuse by severely limiting the time period in which they can file civil lawsuits to hold their abusers accountable. According to Child USA, the average age for a survivor to come forward is 52. For more than a decade, lobbyists and lawmakers have worked to fix this in states around the country. For example, Ohio and Pennsylvania now give survivors until age 30 to file claims while Massachusetts gives survivors up to 35 years to sue. Closer to home, this year has seen changes in New York and Vermont that either extend the statute or eliminate it altogether in civil courts. Here is an overview of the changes. New York’s Child Victims Act Under the prior statute of limitations, many cases of childhood sexual abuse went unreported simply because there was nothing to be done about it. But the New York City Bar Association reports the following of the Child Victims Act (CVA): “Before, survivors of childhood sexual abuse had from 1–5 years to bring a civil lawsuit against their abuser. The 1–5-year time period started after the victim turned 18 years old. For a long time, it has been recognized that it is very difficult for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to come forward or even come to terms with the trauma until many years later. As a result, many survivors could not pursue a claim for damages because the 1–5-year time period expired by the time they were ready — emotionally and otherwise — to bring a claim for money damages. Now, the CVA helps survivors by extending the statute of limitations for civil

claims so that survivors can file a claim until they are 55 years old.

“There is another very important part of the CVA which applies to civil cases. The CVA allows survivors of childhood sexual abuse — who were unable to file a lawsuit under the old law — to have a one-year ‘look back’ period during which they can file a civil claim. This means that a civil case which had already expired under the old statute of limitations can now be filed within this one- year period. This is a very important right that provides survivors who would not have been able to file a claim previously to be able to file a claim for money damages now.” Vermont’s H.330 Law This new law in Vermont eliminates the statute of limitations for civil actions based on childhood sexual abuse. The elimination of the statute of limitations is fully retroactive, which means an action based on childhood sexual abuse may be brought at any time, even if it would have been barred by the previous statute of limitations. If the claim is against an entity, the standard of proof for the claim is higher, what the law calls gross negligence. Now, survivors of childhood sexual abuse can take legal action whenever they are ready to come forward. In a statement released this past May, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said, “By opening a ‘window to justice’ and allowing survivors whose cases were previously barred by statute of limitations to be heard in court, important information can be exposed that can help create safer, more informed communities. We hope that other legislators around the country will look to

Vermont as an example as they too begin to take up statute of limitations reform in their own states.” Collectively, these changes in state laws are a huge step forward for survivors. Finally, the law is catching up to a crucial reality: For many children who have survived abuse, it can take decades to come to terms with what happened and to have the strength and support to hold these people and institutions accountable. The sad truth is, statistically, one-third of all childhood sexual abuse cases are never reported. We hope these changes in the law will lead to greater accountability. To find out more about what we can do to help you and your family at Champlain Valley Law, call us at 802-231-3377 or visit our website anytime at ChamplainValleyLaw.com.

-Drew Palcsik

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