Covid-19 Adds Uncertainty to “Look-Back Window” of New York‘s Child Victims Act

Apr 14, 2020

Catalina Cruz went through years of guilt after surviving the sexual abuse she sustained as a child. Alessandra Biaggi thought she would never reveal her childhood sexual abuse to anyone during her entire lifetime. Rodneyse Bichotte believed that people would think it was her fault for what happened. Yuh Line Niou can’t speak about her abuse without trembling and shaking. These four courageous women share the unfortunate reality of being sexually abused as children. However, that is not the only thing they have in common. These four women—these incredibly strong survivors—are also lawmakers in the state of New York.

When New York began voting on its Child Victims Act (CVA), Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (D-Queens), Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx), Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Brooklyn), and Assemblywoman Yuh Line Niou (D-Manhattan) shared their personal sentiments and accounts in supporting the passage of the bill. Other state legislators were moved by their stories and took sweeping action on behalf of all survivors of childhood sexual abuse. In 2019, New York passed the CVA, which opens a “look-back window” to allow survivors to file a civil lawsuit that would have been time-barred because of the statute of limitations. The window allows for survivors to bring their time-barred claims until August 13, 2020.

Unfortunately, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic could upend the fight for survivors’ justice in New York. Judge Lawrence Marks, New York’s chief administrative judge, has issued a statewide order postponing “nonessential” services in the state’s court system. CVA lawsuits were not listed as essential under the order. Thus, new litigation involving the CVA is currently on hold.

To add to the uncertainty of the future of CVA civil suits, the state legislature has not given a definitive answer as to whether it will extend the look back window beyond August 13, 2020 due to the extraordinary circumstances presented by Covid-19. The legislature could have—but reportedly failed to—lengthen the window in the state budget, which is a large legislative package that often includes measures regarding non-fiscal policy concerns. However, even the process involving the state budget appears uncertain. Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, is under the impression that budget conversations surrounding the look back window have not yet occurred, but that legislators could vote on it at a later date. On the other hand, state Senator Brad Hoylman, one of the primary cosponsors of the CVA, has stated that the window extension had already been discussed in budget negotiations, but it was nevertheless rejected.

What is equally as convoluted as the state budget discussion is the executive order recently issued by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Governor’s order paused the statute of limitations for all legal actions in the state. Some believe that the Governor’s order applies to the CVA look-back window, but the executive order is unclear and does not provide a direct answer to that question. Senator Hoylman, however, has expressed concern that the order was not written with the CVA in mind, specifically.

Because of the large number of Covid-19 cases in New York, the legislature is on break until April 20th. When they return, they are supposed to convene through June 2nd. Senator Hoylman and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal are asking legislators to return to a virtual session following the break to pass an extension on the CVA look-back window. The proposed extension would allow survivors to bring their time-barred claims until August 14, 2021.

Though the future of the CVA look back window appears uncertain, one thing is not: survivors need, and deserve, ample time to file their lawsuits. The qualified attorneys at Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis, and Overholtz PLLC represent survivors of sexual abuse. Please contact us to receive more information.

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