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Quijano, Barnes & Spencer Bill to Help Victims of Sexual Abuse Advanced by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano, Peter J. Barnes, III and L. Grace Spencer that would help gain justice for child sexual abuse victims by eliminating the statute of limitations in certain civil actions was released Thursday by an Assembly committee.

The bill (A-2405) would remove the statue of limitations in civil actions alleging sexual abuse of a minor, expand the categories of defendants who are potentially liable in these actions, and provide that public entities would be liable in these actions.

“Many young victims of sexual abuse don’t report their abusers out of fear or shame; others repress the memories as a way to cope with the abuse,” said Quijano (D-Union). “The impact of sexual abuse on children can be devastating and long-lasting. These victims should have the right to compensation for the suffering endured without a timeline looming over their heads.”

“For some victims, the sexual abuse is revealed later in life. But the time that may have transpired does not change the fact that the abuse happened, nor the consequences it had on the victim,” said Barnes (D-Middlesex). “I can only imagine how difficult it must be to come to grips with the abuse and come forward. These victims deserve justice, regardless of the time lapsed.”

“We have heard too many stories of children falling prey to sexual predators. Many hide the abuse and suffer the consequences silently,” said Spencer (D-Essex/Union). “This bill not only allows victims to bring their abusers to justice when they are ready, but holds accountable not just the abuser, but any responsible person who knew of the abuse and did nothing to stop it.”

Under current law, personal injury suits must be filed within two years of accrual of the cause of action, except for certain medical malpractice actions on behalf of minors. Under the bill, this two-year statute of limitations would be removed for the following actions:

  • alleged sexual abuse of a minor;
  • alleged willful, wanton or grossly negligent act of commission or omission, including sexual assault or other crime of a sexual nature, brought against a trustee, director, officer, employee, agent, servant or volunteer of a nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes;
  • alleged sexual offense committed against a minor due to the negligent hiring, supervision or retention of an employee, agent or servant of a nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for religious, charitable, educational or hospital purposes.

The Charitable Immunity Statute currently provides that nonprofit organizations organized exclusively for charitable, religious or educational purposes are generally immune for their negligence (although they are liable for negligent hiring and supervision of employees that results in a sex offense against a child). The Charitable Immunity Statute also provides that trustees, directors, and employees of these organizations are immune for their negligence, but are liable for their willful, wanton, or grossly negligent acts, including sexual assault and other crimes of a sexual nature.

The bill amends the statute by providing that nonprofit organizations are (1) liable for willful, wanton or grossly negligent acts or omissions, and (2) liable for any negligent act resulting in the commission of sexual assault, any other crime of a sexual nature, or sexual abuse. The bill also provides that trustees, directors, officers, employees, agents, servants or volunteers would be liable for negligence, if they exercised oversight over the individual committing the sexual assault or abuse.

The bill also expands the category of persons who are potentially liable in a civil action alleging the sexual abuse of a child. Under current law, in addition to the person who committed the sexual abuse, a parent, resource family parent (i.e., foster parent), guardian or other person standing in loco parentis within the household who knowingly permitted or acquiesced in the sexual abuse is civilly liable for the abuse. It is currently an affirmative defense if that person was subjected to, or placed in, reasonable fear of physical or sexual abuse by the abuser so as to undermine the person’s ability to protect the child. Under the bill, any person who knowingly permitted or acquiesced in the sexual abuse would be civilly liable. This person would also be entitled to the affirmative defense.

Lastly, the bill makes public entities liable in actions for damages alleging sexual abuse. The bill provides that nothing in the Tort Claims Act or any other provision of law should be construed to grant immunity to public entities in these types of actions.

The bill would take effect immediately and apply to any action filed on or after the effective date, including but not limited to matters where the statute of limitations has expired and matters filed with a court that have not yet been dismissed or finally adjudicated as of the effective date.

The bill would also revive any action that was previously dismissed on grounds that the applicable statute of limitations had expired for a period of two years after the effective date, but could not revive any action previously dismissed on any other grounds or revive any action that has been finally adjudicated.

The bill was released 5-2 by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.