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Last Update: 05/09/2020: Amid Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor Cuomo Announces State Will Extend Window for Victims to File Cases under the Child Victims Act until January 14th. Click here to read the state reference article.

New York State Legislature Child Sexual AbuseHow does the Child Victim’s Act work?

The New York State legislature has finally passed the long-overdue Child Victims Act. Once signed by the Governor, the bill will greatly extend New York’s statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse and will even allow some victims to revive old civil claims based on child sex abuse.

How will the Child Victims Act change the law in New York?

The Child Victims Act extends both the civil and criminal statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse, as well as opening a “window” or “lookback” period.  The extension of the criminal statute of limitations allows the State to protect more kids from more perpetrators.  The extension of the civil statute of limitations allows victims to seek justice and compensation from organizations that allowed the abuse to happen — which will pressure these organizations to make changes that protect kids.  Both of these measures will help victims heal and make kids in New Yorker safer in the future.

What about the “window” under the Child Victims Act?  How does the “window” or “lookback” period work?

The Child Victims Act will also open a one-year window, during which civil lawsuit for child sexual abuse that occurred in New York may be filed without regard to any statute of limitations. Once the window is open, any civil claims where the statute of limitations has already passed (meaning the victim is now older than 23 years old) cannot be dismissed on the basis of the statute of limitations. In other words, after the Child Victims Act becomes law, survivors of child sexual abuse who are currently not able to file lawsuits because of the statute of limitations will be able to do so during the one-year window.

Additionally, some victims of child sexual abuse may have already tried to file civil lawsuits based on their abuse, but their lawsuits were dismissed because the statute of limitations had already passed. Other victims may have filed lawsuits against public institutions but had their cases dismissed because a notice of claim was not filed.  These claims will be “revived” during the one-year window and can be filed again.

When will the “window” in New York open?  When will it close?

This “window” or “lookback” period is set to begin 6 months after the law takes effect.  The window is set to close one year after it opens.  The Governor of New York has publicly promised to sign the bill, but we do not know exactly when that will happen and when the law will take effect.

What are the new statutes of limitations in New York under the Child Victims Act?

For civil claims based on child sexual abuse, a victim will have until he or she reaches age 55 to file a lawsuit. This provision will apply to lawsuits against any person or entity whose actions led to the abuse – including private institutions (like private schools, the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, etc.) and also public entities (like public schools, OCFS, etc). After this law goes into effect, the timeframe for suing public institutions or private organizations will be the same.  The Child Victims Act will also do away with the “notice of claim” requirement for suits based on child sexual abuse against governmental entities.

For criminal charges based on child sex abuse, the statute of limitations period will start to run when the victim is 23 years old, instead of at 18 years of age. The maximum 5-year statute of limitations will remain the same. This means that, depending on the specific sexual offense, the criminal prosecutors may be able to bring criminal charges against the perpetrator until the victim is 28 years old.

What were the old statute of limitations in New York before the Child Victims Act?

The statute of limitations for filing criminal charges against perpetrators of child sexual abuse is only a maximum period of 5 years.  Before the Child Victims Act, the criminal statute of limitations started running from the time the victim was 18 years old. This means that victims who were sexually abused as a child only had until age 23 to press criminal charges against their abusers.

Likewise, before the Child Victims Act, the statute of limitations for bringing civil claims based on child sexual abuse was also a maximum period of 5 years, which started running from the time the victim was 18 years old. This means that victims only had until age 23 to file a lawsuit against anyone whose actions or negligence resulted in the abuse.  Also, before the Child Victims Act, if a person intended to sue a public entity, they were required to submit a “notice of claim” before filing the lawsuit.  (A notice of claim lets the governmental entity know that the victim intends to file a lawsuit; if a notice of claims was not filed correctly, the lawsuit could be barred from going forward.) New York law historically required a notice of claim to be filed within a very short time after the abuse.

I was a victim of sexual abuse in New York – what should I do now that the Child Victims Act looks like it will become law?

The Child Victims Act represents a long-awaited opportunity for people in New York who were sexually victimized as children to pursue justice. If you are a victim of child sexual abuse in New York, you should contact a lawyer who specializes in cases involving child sexual abuse.

Andria Seo

Andria Seo is an Associate Attorney at Crew Janci LLP. Andria is a graduate of the New York University School of Law. During law school, she worked with the National Center for Youth Law, the Legal Aid Society, and the NYCLU. Prior to joining the team at Crew Janci LLP, Andria advocated for vulnerable children and their families as a staff attorney at Partnership for Children’s Rights, a nonprofit based in New York City. Andria also previously worked assisting in the representation of victims of a terrorist attack in civil suits. Andria moved to Portland in 2016 and joined Crew Janci LLP in 2017. She is admitted to practice in Oregon and New York