With New York’s recent enactment of the Child Victims Act, the legal landscape surrounding claims of sexual abuse in the civil and criminal contexts has been substantially changed. Given the broad and sweeping impact of the Child Victims Act, it is critically important that public and private institutions familiarize themselves with the law and understand the new rules. In this alert, we explore a few of the major aspects of the Child Victims Act and highlight several of the actions that institutions should take to limit potential liability.
The Statute of Limitations
Prior to the Child Victims Act, the statute of limitations in New York for an individual to file a civil claim of sexual abuse of a minor expired when the individual turned 23 years of age. In stark contrast, under the Child Victims Act, the statute of limitations to file a civil claim of sexual abuse of a minor does not expire until the individual turns 55 years of age.
The Child Victims Act also changed the statute of limitations for prosecutors to commence criminal proceedings against abusers for sexual abuse of a minor. Under the old law, prosecutors had until the time when the victim turned 23 years old to bring criminal charges. The Child Victims Act provides that prosecutors may bring criminal charges against alleged abusers up until the time that the victim turns 28 years old.
One-Year Lookback Window
In addition to extending the statute of limitations, the Child Victims Act opens a window allowing any individual who alleges to have suffered sexual abuse as a minor whose claim previously had been barred by the statute of limitations to file a civil claim during a specific one-year period.
Removal of Notice of Claim Requirements
In general, a civil litigant is required to file a legal document called a notice of claim as a pre-requisite to commencing a civil action against a public school district, governmental entity or municipality arising out of tortious or negligent conduct. The Child Victims Act changes that requirement with respect to claims of sexual abuse. Now, under the Child Victims Act, individuals who allege to have suffered sexual abuse as a minor are no longer required to file a notice of claim as a pre-requisite to filing a civil claim against a public school district, governmental entity or municipality.
Steps to Take Today
Here are some of the key actions that public and private institutions should take in light of the Child Victims Act:
- Identify and obtain complete copies of any general liability insurance policy that named the institution as insured or additional insured dating back as far as possible.
- Purchase per occurrence general liability insurance policies that name the institution as insured or additional insured and designate an employee of the institution to store and maintain complete copies of the insurance policy.
- Maintain complete personnel files for all employees of the institution for a period of at least 50 years.