Synopsis:  Almost a year after the New York State Legislature enacted the Child Victim Act or “CVA” in February 2019 -- which included a one-year “revival window” under which claims for child sexual abuse could be brought regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred -- there is now new proposed legislation to expand the August 14, 2019 revival window for one more year. The new legislation, if passed, would allow new lawsuits under the CVA to be filed until August 14, 2021. 

New York Senate Bill No. S7082, introduced on January 8, 2020, proposes to extend “the time in which to file a claim relating to certain child sexual abuse cases” for one additional year until August 14, 2021. The Senate Bill seeks to amend Section 214-g of the Civil Practice Law and Rules (which was enacted under the CVA) to provide that new lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse filed pursuant to the Child Victim Act or “CVA” could be brought for a period of two years, between August 14, 2019 until August 14, 2020, regardless of the when the abuse is alleged to have occurred. 

The Senate Bill, entitled “AN ACT to amend the civil practice law and rules, in relation to extending the statute of limitations for certain child sexual abuse cases,” is sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman, (D - Manhattan), who is Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary. The New York State Assembly has introduced the same exact proposed under Assembly Bill No. 9036. The Assembly Bill, introduced on January 10, 2020, is sponsored by Linda Rosenthal (D - Manhattan). Both Mr. Hoylman and Ms. Rosenthal were sponsors of the original CVA that was enacted into law in February 2019.   

Under the new proposed legislation, victims of alleged child sexual abuse would be allowed to file new lawsuits in New York State for claims of child sexual abuse until August 2021, regardless of when the abuse is alleged to have occurred. Under the CVA as currently enacted, victims have until August 2020 to file lawsuits for claims of child sexual abuse that would otherwise be beyond the statute of limitations. 

According to Senator Hoylman, the justification for the extension of the revival window is:

The revival window created by the Child Victims Act opened on August 14, 2019. As of December 2019, four months into the revival window, over 1,300 civil suits have been filed against alleged abusers, on behalf of at least 1,700 survivors.

Extending the length of the revival window would provide more time to notify New Yorkers about the new law and allow more survivors to seek the justice that was denied them by New York's formerly prohibitive civil statute of limitations. Several states that have enacted legislation similar to the Child Victims Act have opted to provide a revival window of longer than one year - most recently New Jersey, which provided a two-year window that opened in December 2019.

Before becoming law, the proposed Senate and Assembly Bills have to be approved by their respective committees in the Senate and Assembly and then be reported to the full Senate and Assembly for consideration and a vote. Assuming both Bills are passed by the Senate and Assembly in the same versions as they are currently proposed, they would then be sent to Governor Cuomo to be signed into law. The simultaneous introduction of exactly worded Bills in both the Senate and Assembly, assuming the text of the Bills are not amended, will likely allow the new legislation to pass quickly.  

It is unclear why, only five months into the one year window, Senator Hoylman would claim that more time is needed to advise New Yorkers of the statute, and suddenly push to extend the window for a full additional year. The CVA’s one year look back period has been highly publicized and there is no impediment to any person actually filing a suit within the one year period. One only need to google “CVA” to be provided with scores of plaintiff side law firms ready to represent these victims and take on these cases now. Here merely filing a suit, without taking any step to advance the case further, is all one has to do during the window to be protected under the CVA. Indeed, we have been hearing that certain plaintiff firms have decided to use the balance of this year to primarily secure their roster of clients and get those complaints timely filed, and will then turn their focus on litigating the cases when the window closes. On the defense side, in circumstances where settlement may be appropriate, a major concern in settling these cases is how many more cases may follow, and how best to apportion what might be limited settlement funds. For this reason knowing the universe of victims who could file suit, which would be apparent after the window closed, is a very important consideration. Extending the window another year obviously complicates that calculus and may force defendants into litigation instead of settling with the victims who already filed. It will be interesting to see if, and how, these considerations are handled in Albany, and if it leads new lobbying efforts by those on both sides of the issue.

The takeaway for now, however, is that any educational, religious, or other civic organization that cares for, or has cared for children in the past, should be prepared for additional significant numbers of people to continue to come forward with claims of child sexual abuse that may have occurred decades ago. Institutions that were already prepared for the influx of cases currently being filed under the CVA and anticipated knowing the full extent and number of those claims by August 2020, may have to now consider that additional claims could continue to be filed until August 2021.

The full text of Senate Bill No. S7082 is available on the New York State Senate website.

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