BOSTON (State House News Service) — A bill that would extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse civil lawsuits is moving toward the House floor but critics claim it is a watered-down version of the original proposal.
The bill, which is more limited in scope than other iterations, would extend the civil statute of limitations from the current law which places it three years after the victim reaches age 18, to 25 years after the victim reaches 18.
Allowing past victims of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits up to the age 43 would match the civil law statute of limitations to the criminal law statute of limitations, which was extended in 2006.
The original bill would have subjected charities to potential penalties greater than $20,000 if they showed “intentional or negligent conduct” and would have increased penalties for cases when mandated reporters do not report suspected sexual abuse.
Though those items were pared from the bill (H 469) that is set to reach the House floor, the redraft won the support of
Majority Leader Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy), who filed the bill in 2011 and released a statement in support of the redraft to the News Service, calling the bill “important legislation to extend the civil statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse and for providing a civil retroactive ‘window.’”
“Protecting our children from future sexual abuse, while allowing victims to have enough time to seek closure through our justice system, has long been a priority of mine,” Mariano said. “I have met with many victims over the years and it is clear that the statute of limitations is a barrier to those who are often not psychologically ready to file lawsuits against their abusers until later in life, or who are barred from filing a claim because they are not ready under the current civil of statute of limitations procedural rules.”
The House Ways and Means Committee voted for the bill, 17-6, in a poll that ended at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Formal legislative sessions end for the year next Tuesday, giving lawmakers only a week to act on the newly released bill.
Carmen Durso, who said he has been working on the issue for 10 years and helped draft the language of the original bill, was not pleased with the committee’s redraft. “This is an outrageous sellout,” said Durso.
Efforts to extend the period when criminal and civil charges can be filed in a sexual abuse case have proved controversial as adult victims clamor for a chance at justice and others warn that the passage of time makes it hard to determine the facts of a case.
House Judiciary Chairman Eugene O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea) said he would not seek reappointment to the post in 2013 following a Boston Globe column that criticized him for not reporting out an earlier version of the bill that would have eliminated the statute of limitations entirely for criminal cases of indecent assault and battery and rape of a minor as well as civil claims stemming for child sexual abuse.
O’Flaherty’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Later in March,
House Speaker Robert DeLeo said House lawmakers were working on drafting a statute of limitations bill that would pass “constitutional muster.” On Wednesday, his office did not say whether the speaker would seek to push the bill through the House before the end of formal sessions.
The bill was reported favorably out of the Judiciary Committee in May and on Wednesday morning, the House Ways and Means reported out the pared down version of the bill.
If the bill is passed by both branches and signed into law by
Gov. Deval Patrick, it would also create a one-year window where alleged victims of past sexual abuse who have been unable to receive damages because of the statute of limitations would be able to file lawsuits. That one-year window would start on Nov. 15, 2012.
While he stopped short of advocating against passage of the bill, Durso said it was “an absolute outrage” that litigants filing lawsuits in the one-year window must show that the employer of a sexual predator “owed a duty of care to the victim” and that there was “gross negligence” on the part of the employer in order to receive damages. Durso said prior versions had only required “negligence” on the part of the employer.
Several Massachusetts institutions have been embroiled in accusations of harboring sexual predators in the past, including the
Boston Archdiocese and
Camp Good News on Cape Cod, where
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown revealed in his memoir he had been abused as a camper. Earlier in July, 55-year-old Stephen Embry reportedly sued Harvard University for alleged sexual abuse that occurred between 1969 and 1972, 40 years ago.
“I hope they have the good sense to knock out that paragraph,” said Durso, who acknowledged the bill is beneficial for people whose child sexual abuse cases have not yet passed the statute of limitations – essentially age 43 – written into the legislation.
“Going forward, that’s the future. Sure, that’s helpful,” Durso told the News Service.
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