ALBANY, NY (AP) — Adult survivors of sexual assault who have missed legal deadlines to charge their abusers will be given a second chance to file lawsuits under a bill finalized Monday by the New York legislature York.
Once enacted, the Adult Survivors Act would give victims of sexual abuse a one-year period during which the usual state restriction on civil lawsuits would be set aside.
The bill is modeled on New York’s now-expired Child Victims Act, which gave people a similar second chance to sue for sexual abuse they suffered as children. That period was initially supposed to last a year, but was extended twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
By the time the widow closed, more than 9,000 lawsuits had been filed, many against institutions such as churches, schools, camps and scout groups.
Supporters of abuse survivors had urged a similar retrospective for people who were abused when they were 18 or older.
“Sexual assault steals a piece of one’s soul, whether one is 6, 16 or 60,” said Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat, the bill’s lead sponsor.
“All survivors of sexual abuse deserve justice and the right to a trial,” said Speaker of Parliament Carl Heastie, also a Democrat.
The state assembly approved the bill on Monday by 140 to 3 votes after it passed the state senate last month. It now goes to Governor Kathy Hochul, who has said she plans to sign it.
The lawsuits look-back period begins six months after Hochul signed the bill into law.
It’s unclear whether the law would have as big of an impact as the Child Victims Act, which sparked a wave of lawsuits that could take years to resolve. Several Roman Catholic dioceses in the state have been declared bankrupt amid the deluge of lawsuits over abusive clergy. Similar laws involving children in other states led to lawsuits elsewhere, a factor in the Boy Scouts of America’s 2020 bankruptcy.
However, that law only applied to people who were under the age of 18 when they were abused, based on the theory that at a young age they could not be expected to tell a court what had happened to them.
Many lawmakers were initially reluctant to open a similar window to people who were sexually abused as adults, arguing that they were better able to fight for themselves in a court of law.
Usually, states impose time limits on how long a person can wait to file a lawsuit because it becomes more difficult to follow a fair lead as witnesses’ memories fade and evidence is lost.