Professor Marci A. Hamilton, The Bottom Ten and the Top Ten States for Access to Civil Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims
Child abusers and their employers and enablers have benefitted for decades from state statutes of limitations (SOLs) for child sex abuse that expire before the vast majority of victims are ready to come forward. It was, until relatively recently, a constant game of “gotcha” that victims could not win. Most victims need decades to come forward, at least into their late 30s and early 40s. The system until recently was rigged in favor of perpetrators, aiding institutions and against victims.
As states have learned the realities of child sex abuse in light of the Catholic, Penn State, and many other scandals, many have increased and even eliminated the SOLs, both civil and criminal. States can set a hard age as the deadline for filing and/or establish a discovery rule that gives a victim a certain number of years from when they discovery the link between their current problems and the sex abuse. In light of the manifest injustice for so many, some states have permitted revival of expired civil claims to provide access to justice to those who were shut out.
There are states, however, that continue to cling to the Dark Ages and keep the vast majority of victims out of court.
THE BOTTOM TEN
The very worst states in the country for civil claims are below, arranged in alphabetical order, and listing the age by which victims must file lawsuits or lose their claims. These are the states where, for the vast majority of victims, the costs of abuse are borne by the victim (or the taxpayers when they need assistance). Those who caused the abuse are typically let off the hook. For those who abuse a child or cover up for an abuser, these are the pick states.
1. Alabama Up to age 21.
2. Georgia Up to age 23.
3. Indiana Up to age 25.
4. Maryland Up to age 25.
5. Michigan Up to age 19.
6. Mississippi Up to age 22 for assault or battery.
7. North Dakota Up to age 25.
8. New York Up to age 23.
9. Tennessee Up to age 19 plus very limited discovery rule.
10. West Virginia File by age 20 plus very limited discovery rule and a 20-year statute of repose (which means that the victim’s claims may be capped at 20 years following the date of the abuse).
THE TOP TEN
These are the states that have swung wide the courthouse doors so that victims can hold their perpetrators and the institutions that created the conditions for the abuse accountable, arranged alphabetically. In these states, the cost of the abuse has been shifted to those in fact responsible for it (and their insurance carriers). The sky has not fallen and no institution has closed as a result of affording the victims meaningful access to justice in these states. These are the states that send a message to the victims that the abuse was not their fault and to the perpetrators and responsible institutions that they are accountable for their bad acts.
1. Alaska Eliminated civil SOL.
2. California Had 1-year revival window during 2003. Age 26 plus discovery. Considering extension of civil SOL to age 40, and extension of discovery rule from 3 years to 5 years.
3. Connecticut Survivors have until age 48, even if their prior SOL expired.
4. Delaware Eliminated civil SOL and had 2-year revival window 2007-09.
5. Florida Eliminated civil SOL.
6. Hawaii Had 2-year revival window 2012-14 and has bill extending window 2 years and eliminating civil SOL awaiting Governor’s signature.
7. Illinois Eliminated civil SOL.
8. Maine Eliminated civil SOL.
9. Minnesota Eliminated civil SOL and has open 2-year revival window.
10. Oregon Survivors have until age 40 plus a liberal discovery rule.
We are in the midst of a revolution for child sex abuse survivors’ access to justice. The Top Ten are in the forefront of progress and decency; the Bottom Ten are lagging behind and with each passing legislative session, they seem more out of touch and inexcusably immoral. History is on the side of the Top Ten.