New York extends window for abuse lawsuits

shutterstock 1477126829 Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking at press conference, May, 2019. / David McGlynn/Shutterstock

New York on Monday extended the window in the statute of limitations for people sexually abused as children to file lawsuits against the perpetrators.

On August 3, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation extending the one-year window for Child Victims Act lawsuits until August 14, 2021. The window, which began in August of 2019, allowed for lawsuits to be filed over allegations of sex abuse long after the statute of limitations had expired.

Previously, survivors of sex abuse in the state had until the age of 23 to file criminal charges or a civil claim. Under the Child Victims Act, survivors can now file charges until age 28, or file a civil claim if they are younger than age 55.

The law also created a one-year "lookback" window for new lawsuits where the statute of limitations had already expired.

In May, Gov. Cuomo ordered that the deadline for lawsuits be extended by five months until Jan. 14, 2021, due to coronavirus-related delays in the court system. Non-essential court filings in the state had been halted in March due to the onset of the pandemic.

Now the legislation- S7082/A9036-will extend the deadline for lawsuits until August 14, 2021.

The dioceses of Buffalo and Rochester have already filed for bankruptcy, after being named in hundreds of new lawsuits under the CVA. On May 4, the Buffalo diocese asked a federal court to halt outstanding clergy sex abuse litigation as it navigated bankruptcy proceedings.

One Democratic state senator who sponsored the Child Victims Act, Brad Hoylman, said that the pandemic had caused many victims to refrain from coming forward.

"The Child Victims Act has allowed more than 3,000 brave survivors to come forward to seek justice. Yet it's clear many New Yorkers who survived child sexual abuse haven't come forward - especially during the COVID-19 crisis which has upended our courts and economy," he said. 

A federal bankruptcy judge on July 29, however, refused to grant a five-month extension for claims against the Rochester diocese, the Rochester Catholic Courier reported on Monday.

The beatification cause of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who once served as Rochester's bishop, has even been indirectly affected by the new lawsuits under the CVA; Sheen's beatification was postponed shortly before it was scheduled to take place last December.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the prefect of Congregation for the Causes of Saints, told Catholic News Service in July that the Rochester diocese had "expressed concern" over Sheen's possible role in controversial assignments of priests accused of sexual abuse, although no complaints against Sheen had surfaced.

Becciu said that Sheen's beatification had been postponed "out of respect for the U.S. civil authorities, who must express their views on cases of sexual abuse that indirectly affect the period."

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