In January 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act. This measure, which had been pending for more than a decade, significantly expands the statute of limitations in sexual assault cases. Survivors as old as 55 can file claims in civil court.
In one respect, the CVA is nothing new. It is the latest development in the seemingly endless tort reform saga. Generally, these battles feature injury victims on one side and large insurance companies on the other side. To protect their own profits, insurance companies often try to limit the number of lawsuits victims can file, reduce the amount of damages juries can award, and so on.
But in another way, the CVA is different. Injury victims are on one side, but a faceless insurance company is not on the other side. Instead, the Child Victims Act may profoundly affect organizations like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America.
Those Affected by the child victim’s act
Allegations have recently resurfaced that youth sexual abuse was a problem in the Boy Scouts in the United States and Canada for over a half-century. Many of these alleged predators were volunteers.
If Boy Scout leadership addressed the issue quickly, the group would have nothing to worry about today in terms of legal liability. But if leaders swept sexual abuse controversies under the rug, the CVA holds them accountable.
The CVA has basically the same effect on Catholic Church leadership. According to court documents, Church officials turned a blind eye to sexual abuse for a number of decades. Instead of addressing the problem, leadership quietly reassigned accused priests and other workers without warning anyone at their new diocese.
The Catholic Church and BSA matters are divisive. Both these groups deny that they put people at risk to protect their profits and reputations. Many former patients make similar allegations against doctors and hospitals. These accusations are equally controversial.
Victims’ Damage Claims
When any adult, but especially a trusted adult sexually assaults a child in any way, that one horrific moment essentially shatters everything that child is and everything s/he believes. The decades-long consequences are almost immeasurable.
These consequences include economic losses, such as psychiatric therapy bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Moreover, if there is clear and convincing evidence that the organization tried to conceal the abuse, additional punitive damages may be available as well.
Often, the amount of damages may be substantial. The Brooklyn Diocese of the Catholic Church recently paid $27.5 million to settle four sexual abuse cases. And that was in 2018, before the new CVA took effect. Future claims may result in even higher awards, since there will be more plaintiffs seeking relief.
Legally, these organizational claims usually rely on either negligent hiring or negligent supervision. Negligent hiring is often a failure to ask questions when hiring an individual for a paid or volunteer position. Other groups do not obtain background checks or otherwise properly vett applicants. Negligent supervision is much the same, except it occurs during the employment relationship. Some companies fail or refuse to investigate misconduct allegations, while others look into them but do not resolve them.
It’s important to note that negligent hiring and negligent supervision are not absolute bars. If Joe has a sex crimes conviction but he wants to volunteer for the Boy Scouts, he can probably still do so. He simply cannot participate in certain activities. Additionally, if someone accuses Joe of misconduct, the Boy Scouts have a special duty to thoroughly investigate the claim.
A new law gives sexual abuse survivors some additional legal options. For a free and confidential consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We are ready to stand with victims and to aggressively fight on their behalf.