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New Jersey Extends Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Claims

May 16, 2019 in

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill to extend the statute of limitations for civil actions alleging sexual abuse. The legislation closely follows a similar bill passed in New York, which eases the time limitations for child victims to seek prosecution against their abuser.

On May 13, 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill extending the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims. The legislation increases the time victims are allowed to file a claim against their abuser and expands the extent to which institutions can be held liable for harboring abusers. This law will take effect on December 1, 2019.

The New Jersey Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Claims

The law is considered an important milestone among advocates, victims and survivors, as similar legislative efforts have proven unsuccessful in the past. Previous attempts to address this issue failed largely due to heavy resistance from influential institutions such as The New Jersey Catholic Conference.

The new law provides the following:  

  • Survivors and victims have two years from the date of enactment to file a civil action for adult or child sexual abuse that occured in the past.
  • Any survivor or victim under the age of 18 that suffered abuse in the past may bring a cause of action within the next two years.
  • Sexual abuse victims and survivors who suffered abuse in the past as minors and miss the filing window may file a legal claim until they reach the age of 55.
  • Individuals who do not meet these criteria, but allege delays in their ability to connect past abuse to damages, are to be granted an opportunity to seek damages for a period of up to seven years from the point of initial connection.
  • The categories of potential defendants liable for sexual abuse has been expanded to include public entities, institutions and any person who knowingly permitted or failed to report the sexual abuse.

New York Passes Child Victims Act to Reform Statute of Limitations

The signing of S477 in New Jersey comes nearly four months after New York passed the Child Victims Act, effectively allowing child abuse survivors to bring civil action until the age of 55. Victims and survivors also have until the age of 28 to pursue criminal charges against their abuser. Advocates of the law suggest that this measure was a monumental step for the state, which was once considered to have one of the most strict statutes of limitations for sexual abuse filings in the nation.

In addition to improving the statute for civil filings, the Child Victims Act provides victims of any age a one-year window to come forward and file legal actions. This, among the other improvements to the law, means that individuals are given more time to disclose histories of abuse–an important provision due to the fact that it can take victims years to come to terms with the abuse suffered so that they are able to come forward.

“A Silent Pandemic”

In an interview with CNN, CEO of ChildUSA Marci Hamilton called the widespread occurrence of child sexual abuse a “silent pandemic.” Advocates also suggest that many of the barriers to justice for victims and survivors are created by a lack of awareness of the issue in communities that contributes to stigma for survivors and victims, and an opposition to reformed legislation by institutions. One such institution that posed significant opposition to both the Child Victims Act in New York and S477 in New Jersey was the Catholic Church.

Resources for Survivors and Victims

For decades, Sullivan, Papain, Block, McGrath & Cannavo, P.C. has fought for the rights of all survivors of sexual abuse and stands ready to continue its support of survivors and provide them with access to justice and acknowledgment.

If you or a loved one has suffered abuse recently or well into the past, contact an attorney to learn what legal options are available and how to preserve your rights.