The New Jersey legislature recently failed to pass a bill that would have lifted the two-year statute of limitations that victims of sexual abuse have to file civil claims against their abusers. When the bill was initially proposed back in 2010, it received overwhelming support by a state senate committee. However, since that time, the bill has been stalled in the state legislature. On the last day of the legislature’s final session, lawmakers failed to vote on the bill. The bill has had significant support in committee, and some believed that because of that support, the bill would make it to the governor’s desk. Sadly, for the victims of abuse, they were wrong.
Alabama currently has the exact same two-year statute of limitations for suits based on sexual abuse. In Alabama, a victim may bring suit against the perpetrator within two years of the incident. Alabama Code § 6-2-38(l) contains no general statutory exception for sex-related actions. Moreover, the Alabama Supreme Court does not permit a sexual abuse action to be filed when suppressed or latent memory of the incident arises beyond the statute of limitations. Travis v. Ziter, (Ala. 1996). One victim-friendly aspect of Alabama’s law says that there is a tolling of the statute of limitations for minors and that the clock begins running only once you turn 19-years-old. Alabama Code § 6-2-8 does specify that even under such circumstances no action can be filed at all after twenty years has passed.
When New Jersey lawmakers were asked why the bill died in the General Assembly, they were tight-lipped. The spokesman for the Democrats (http://www.njdems.org/), Tom Hesterman, said that they wanted to rework the bill to resolve some “technical questions.” There was no further explanation about what kinds of questions needs to be resolved. Hesterman did say however that they were going to reintroduce the bill during the next session once the “technical questions” have been answered.
Victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests are understandably frustrated with the bill’s failure in the Assembly. The victims believe that the influence of the Catholic Church is to blame for the bill failing to make it past committee. As it stands now in New Jersey, an adult victim of child sexual abuse has two years from the date of “reasonable discovery” to file a civil claim.
Lifting the statute of limitations would obviously allow more claims to be brought, which is certainly not in the best interest of the Catholic Church. The Church claims that the new changes proposed by the bill will only pad the pocket of lawyers and will do nothing to protect future children from being molested by Catholic priests. What it will do, however, is encourage the Catholic Church to do whatever it can to minimize the number of lawsuits it has to defend, which may mean putting a little extra effort into screening who is allowed to become a priest in the first place.
As Huntsville personal injury attorneys, we have seen the damage that can result from childhood sexual abuse. If you’ve been the victim of such an atrocity and need assistance navigating confusing legal waters, contact our caring Alabama injury lawyers today.
Source: “Adult victims of childhood sexual abuse frustrated by failure of bill opposed by the Catholic Church,” by Terrance T. McDonald, published by NJ.com.