New Jersey Statute of Limitations for Child Sex Abuse Claims
Statutes of limitations exist due to possible difficulties in collecting evidence about events that occurred years ago. After a statute of limitations expires, a plaintiff cannot file a lawsuit. However, in cases involving sexual abuse of minors, restrictive statutes of limitations have impeded survivors’ right to justice. Children who are sexually abused may not tell anyone for years; additionally, cover up activities by those responsible may impede efforts by the survivors to seek redress in court. Recent changes to the New Jersey statute of limitations reflect the need to address the unique nature of sex abuse cases involving children. These changes are making it possible for more survivors of sex abuse to seek justice in court.
How Has the New Jersey Statue of Limitations Changed?
Previously, victims of child sex abuse in New Jersey had to file claims by age 20 or two years after the discovery of harm. Many survivors and advocates viewed this statute as an unreasonable burden for those seeking justice. On May 13, 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill that eased the restrictions on when child sexual abuse survivors can file civil claims. At that point, the New Jersey statute of limitations changed in several ways.
First, the new law creates a two-year window beginning December 1, 2019 and closing November 2021, during which survivors of child sexual abuse or assault may file a civil claim against the responsible party or parties, regardless of when the abuse occurred. After November 2021, the new law will allow survivors to file up to seven years after they discovered the harm of the abuse or up to age 55.
Finally, the law expands the categories of potential defendants in civil actions, allowing institutions or persons who knowingly permitted sexual abuse to be held civilly liable. This includes organizations that employed and/or protected abusers.
Why Was the New Jersey Statue of Limitations Changed?
The new law takes into account the fact that sexual abuse of minors has historically been severely underreported. Children may suppress memories of sexual abuse for years, if not decades. Children often feel ashamed and confused when a trusted adult, such as a priest, touches them inappropriately or inflicts other forms of sexual abuse. Pedophile priests are in a position of power. Even very young children are aware that parents and family members look up to priests. The priest may tell or even threaten the victim to keep their secret. The New Jersey statute of limitations was changed to give survivors more time to come to grips with their trauma, connect the dots, and seek justice when they are adults.
Also, the statute was changed to allow survivors to sue institutions as well as individuals. This will allow survivors of clergy abuse to sue an institution like a Parish or Diocese. That is because supervisors of the abusive priests, as well as the Catholic Church itself, may have initiated cover up activities such as transferring the offender from parish to parish. This practice may have enabled the abuse to continue, with additional victims in other locations suffering at the hand of the same priest.
What Do Survivors of Sex Abuse Need to Know?
Survivors of abuse need to know that they have an opportunity to pursue justice in court, even if the abuse happened a long time ago. Problems that survivors are experiencing now, such as substance abuse, depression, anxiety and even physical injures, may have been caused by the trauma of sexual abuse they experienced as children. Survivors have a new chance to start the healing process by initiating legal proceedings and obtaining compensation for their suffering. Coming forward also supports the larger community in taking a stand and proclaiming that this type of abuse will no longer be tolerated.
New Jersey Clergy Abuse Lawyers at Williams Cedar Provide Legal Representation to Survivors of Child Sex Abuse
If you or a loved one endured the trauma of sexual abuse by a clergy member in New Jersey, no matter how long ago, the New Jersey clergy abuse lawyers at Williams Cedar are ready to listen to you. We will help you seek justice during this new window of opportunity created by the changes in the New Jersey statute of limitations. Contact us online today for a free, confidential consultation or call us at 215-557-0099 or 856-470-9777. With offices conveniently located in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we provide legal representation to clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including those in Camden, Cherry Hill, Metuchen, Trenton and nationwide.