CA window for child sexual assault lawsuits opens January 1, 2020
After then-Governor Jerry Brown vetoed two earlier bills, California has finally succeeded in changing its statute of limitations [SOL] for child sexual assault lawsuits. The new law extends the deadline for civil lawsuits going forward and opens a three-year window for claims that were barred under the old rules.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 218 on October 13, 2019. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez sponsored the bill in the 2019 legislative session.
A new SOL for child sexual assault in California
Starting January 1, 2020, when the law goes into effect, the three-year window will allow adults to bring claims regardless of their current age. Survivors of child sexual assault that happened in California may file claims that were barred by prior statutes of limitations.
Going forward, California’s new statute of limitations for civil claims for child sexual assault will be age 40. Under the old law, the deadline was 26. Victims over 40 also may bring claims if they file within five years of when they make, or should have made, the connection between their abuse and their adult “psychological injury or illness.” Many victims of child sexual assault, especially boys, do not talk about it for years. Extended statutes of limitations give survivors the time they need to understand the effect of the abuse and decide what they want to do.
AB 218 allows claims against organizations and perpetrators
The new law allows child sexual assault victims to sue the perpetrator or third parties responsible for the abuse. The new law broadly defines these third parties as:
“any person or entity who owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, if a wrongful or negligent act by that person or entity was a legal cause of the childhood sexual assault that resulted in the injury to the plaintiff.”
This means victims could bring claims against churches, the Boy Scouts, private schools, sports groups, and other youth-serving organizations if they were responsible for the abuse. Those making a claim must prove that the organization “owed a duty of care” to them and did something wrong that resulted in the abuse.
Organizations including USA Gymnastics, the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons), and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have already faced claims in California for child sexual assault. When the three-year window opens on January 1, 2020, other child sexual assault survivors will have an opportunity to come forward with their claims.
The law also allows claims against individuals responsible for the abuse, such as a parent who knew about the abuse but did nothing to stop another parent. The law specifically carves out claims against public schools and government agencies.
The new law provides for civil claims and penalties
The new law applies only to civil lawsuits, not criminal deadlines. In a civil lawsuit, a survivor cannot seek to put the wrongdoers in prison, but only seek monetary compensation for the psychological injuries or illness caused by the child sexual assault.
AB 218 does not limit the legal claims a victim may bring. That is, victims may allege negligence, infliction of emotional distress, fraud, or other legal theories, as long as California law supports those theories.
The new law also allows survivors to seek penalties of treble damages against entities or individuals that covered up childhood sexual assault. The statute defines cover-up as “a concerted effort to hide evidence relating to childhood sexual assault.” Other survivors have documented claims of fraud alleging cover-up of child sexual assault against institutions like the Boy Scouts, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Catholic Church. The penalties available under AB 218 will be a powerful tool for survivors coming forward now.
Gilion C. Dumas
Dumas & Vaughn, Attorneys at Law