On November 24, New York’s Adult Survivors Act “revival window” is set to open for adult victims of sexual abuse. Revival windows, also called “lookback periods,” provide a limited period, usually at least one year, for sexual abuse victims to file otherwise time-barred civil claims. New York previously opened a revival window for minor victims of sexual abuse under its 2019 Child Victim’s Act, which closed in August 2021.
Lawsuits filed under revival windows are often brought not only against the alleged abuser, but also against employers, educational institutions, summer camps, social service agencies, and other entities under a vicarious liability theory. Such lawsuits typically bring claims for aiding and abetting the abuse, transporter liability, benefitting from sex trafficking under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), civil RICO violations, negligent hiring, negligent security, premises liability, and common law negligence. These claims can date back decades, implicating extremely complex insurance and liability issues.
With the commencement of the New York adult revival window looming, sexual abuse victims — and potential defendants — are gearing up for a surge of litigation. During New York’s two-year revival window for minor victims, over 10,000 cases were filed under the statute, with the first reported jury verdict reaching $25 million. After New Jersey opened a similar revival window for individuals abused as children, the Diocese of Camden, NJ settled claims made by hundreds of abuse survivors for $87.5 million. Several high-profile targets of claims arising from revival statutes were forced to file for bankruptcy as a result of their passage and subsequent flood of legal claims.
Often, defenses are available, but must be pursued tactfully. For example, aiders and abettors of sex trafficking are liable under the TVPA only if they knowingly “benefit, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture which has engaged in” sex trafficking. While employees, by definition, typically provide benefit to their employers, to satisfy the TVPA, that benefit must be “because of” the sexual misconduct. Similarly, to plead a negligence claim against a third party, a plaintiff must sufficiently allege a legally cognizable duty owed to the plaintiff. Merely failing to act to prevent harm to an adult is not sufficient to allege that duty.
Due to the sensitivity of the issues raised, defendants in such cases should seek counsel experienced with such matters and processes and a track record demonstrating the ability to handle such sensitive issues responsibly.