Following a nationwide trend, legislators in the Garden State approved a measure which radically extends the statute of limitations in sexual assault cases.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is expected to sign the measure, which passed both legislative houses by a wide margin. The bill would extend the sexual abuse statute of limitations until the future victim reached age 55. Additionally, the bill gives current victims a two-year window to file claims even if the SOL has expired. S. 477’s primary sponsor, Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), said the measure would “hold [abusers and rapists] accountable” in a civil or criminal court. “It would also shift the cost of abuse from the victims to the ones who caused it and bring delayed, but still welcome, justice to the victims,” he added.
Lowering Procedural Hurdles in New York and New Jersey
Many people hailed New York’s Crime Victims Law as game-changing legislation which radically altered the legal landscape. But experienced attorneys, like our own Marie Napoli, know that these changes are not as earth-shaking as they seem.
The prestigious New York Law Journal recently asked Marie to comment on this change. SHe pointed out that the new law simply codifies the existing discovery rule. That seemingly minor change has a huge impact on sexual assault victims.
In brief, the discovery rule overrides the two-year statute of limitation in many tort cases. Typically, sexual assault, car crash, drug overdose, and other negligence victims only have twenty-four months from the date of the incident to file legal damage claims. But according to the discovery rule, that two-year SOL does not begin running until the victim:
- Knew or should have known about the full extent of his/her injuries, and
- Connects those injuries to the tortfeasor’s (negligent actor’s) conduct or misconduct.
Child sexual assault cases are an excellent example. Assume that Juan was sexually assaulted when he was an altar boy. The brain buries memories like these. Because of that repression, and because Juan was too ashamed to come forward, he never tells anyone.
Many years later, he reads about a large settlement in a similar action against the Catholic Church. That news story brings the repressed memory to the surface.
Under the old rule, Juan would have a hard time overcoming the statute of limitations problem. Yes, his brain repressed the memory. But he also refused to come forward because he was scared. At Napoli Shkolnik, our lawyers have handled these kinds of cases for years and they have won many of these preliminary arguments.
New Jersey’s Crime Victims Act would eliminate this procedural matter. Instead of jumping over this legal hurdle, the Juans of the world may pursue sexual assault claims as a matter of law.
sexual assault Claims and Damages
This change significantly impacts your claim for damages. Stingy insurance companies counted on this procedural loophole to keep these claims out of court. Now that they can see the light of day, insurance companies must deal with the merits of the case. And the merits are often very ugly.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, and other such groups did not deal with child sexual abuse allegations in their organizations. Instead, they stuffed these matters into a dark closet and hoped they would never come out. But as most of us know, and as these groups are now learning, the longer you put off problems, the worse they get.
The tort of sexual assault is basically any harmful or offensive touching of a sexual nature that is not completely accidental. The group that employs the tortfeasor (negligent actor), and an “employee” could be an unpaid volunteer in this context, could be legally responsible for damages under one of the following theories:
- Negligent Hiring: Groups can hire people with criminal sexual records, or allow them to serve as volunteers. But it is negligent to allow these people to be around children or to be in any position where they could hurt someone.
- Negligent Supervision: Sometimes, the group had no idea that the person was dangerous. But when misconduct allegations surfaced, they either quietly swept them under the rug or did not seriously investigate the accusations.
These same theories may apply in other contexts as well, such as a hospital or clinic whose employees took advantage of their patients.
Damages in a negligence case usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Particularly in organizational sexual assault claims, significant punitive damages may be available as well.
Sexual assault victims may be entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced New York personal injury attorney, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We handle these claims on a regional and nationwide basis.