A new revival window opened on Thanksgiving Day for filing sexual assault and abuse lawsuits that would otherwise be time-barred by the New York statute of limitations. This means that entities who formerly employed or were connected to alleged sexual offenders may now have to respond to related claims of negligence and intentional misconduct lodged against them concerning events that may have occurred decades ago.
The Adult Survivors Act (ASA), codified as CPLR § 214-j, is a New York state law that creates a one-year “lookback window” for expired civil claims to be filed based on conduct that constitutes a sexual offense, as defined in Article 130 of the New York Penal Law, that was committed against individuals who were 18 years of age or older at the time of the sexual offense. The ASA expires on November 23, 2024, which means the window to file claims closes on that date.
Under the ASA, survivors of sexual offenses can bring claims against individual offenders in addition to bringing related claims against public and private institutions, companies and other organizations that may have employed the alleged offenders or otherwise been connected to such offenders. The nature and extent of the relationships between the alleged offenders and entities will be hotly contested issues litigated in these actions. Plaintiffs will no doubt bring claims based on intentional and negligent acts and omissions, alleging, for example, that entities: failed to protect plaintiffs from sexual offenders; were negligent in implementing proper safety protocols; were negligent in hiring, retaining, supervising and directing offenders; were negligent in implementing proper safety and reporting protocols; and were liable for infliction of emotional distress.
Key issues in these litigations may involve the duty, if any, that entities owed to plaintiffs, the extent of entities' control of alleged offenders, whether alleged offenders acted as agents of entities affiliated with them and whether these entities had actual or constructive knowledge of an alleged offender's sexual offenses committed against a plaintiff or a propensity to commit sexual offenses based on past conduct.
But for the ASA, many adult survivors of sexual offenses would not have any legal recourse available to them as the time to bring their claims in court has long expired. Individuals have started—and are expected to continue—to file civil lawsuits during this one-year window against alleged offenders and entities in a wide range of industries (e.g., finance, technology, healthcare, academia, entertainment and sports). These matters are often high profile and high stakes, presenting significant reputational risks to the sued entities.
The ASA mirrors New York's Child Victims Act (CVA) which created a two-year “lookback window” for child sexual abuse survivors (i.e., those under 18 years of age at the time of the alleged abuse) to file civil lawsuits. The CVA's window closed on August 14, 2021, and resulted in the filing of nearly 11,000 suits.
McDermott has an experienced team of lawyers who specialize in helping clients navigate sexual assault and abuse investigations and litigations, including former prosecutors who were trained to handle these types of matters.
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