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California passes the “Child Victims Act”

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse

Statutes of limitations are laws that require a lawsuit to be filed within a certain amount of time. Failure to file the lawsuit within the specified time frame will forever bar the claim.

Before January 1, 2020, California residents who were survivors of childhood sexual assault had to file any civil lawsuit against their abuser before their 26th birthday. Standing alone, the age of 26 may appear to be a sufficient and reasonable time frame. But 26 is—literally—half-way decent at best.

The average age that survivors disclose that they were sexually abused as a child is 52. Therefore, California’s 26th birthday provision would bar most survivors’ claims 26 years before abuse was ever reported. Fortunately, the state of California recognized how unfair their statute of limitations was, and the legislature took action.  On October 14, 2019, California passed the Child Victims Act for survivors of childhood sexual assault. It took immediate effect on January 1, 2020.

What is perhaps the most important provision of this act is the opening of a three-year window that allows survivors with expired claims to bring a civil lawsuit for damages against their perpetrator, a private organization, or the government. Thus, a 52-year-old with a time-barred claim now has until January 2023 to file a civil lawsuit for childhood sexual assault.

The act also revised the definition of “childhood sexual abuse” and instead refers to it as “childhood sexual assault”. The new definition has been expanded to include crimes such as incest, sodomy, and several other violations against minors that were not previously recognized as sexual abuse.

The act also made significant changes to the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits for childhood sexual assault. The act allows survivors to file a civil lawsuit for damages by either: (1) the time the survivor reaches the age of 40, or, (2) 5 years after the survivor discovers (or reasonably should have discovered) that their psychological injury was caused by their childhood sexual assault, whichever of the two occurs latest.

Furthermore, the act allows for survivors over the age of 40 to file a sexual assault claim if an individual or entity knew, had reason to know, or was otherwise put on notice that its employees, representatives, volunteers, or agents were engaged in misconduct that created a risk of childhood sexual assault. Additionally, individuals and organizations will be liable under the act for failing to take reasonable steps or implementing safeguards to avoid acts of childhood sexual assault. The act also provides that survivors may recover additional damages from a perpetrator or organization who covered up the sexual assault of a minor.

The qualified attorneys at Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis, and Overholtz represent survivors of childhood sexual assault, and we are committed to bringing justice to all survivors. Please contact us to receive more information.

Sources:

https://www.childusa.org/sol

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB218