Legislature Ponders Change to Sex Abuse Statute of Limitations

The Massachusetts Legislature is contemplating new legislation, The Protection from Sexual Predators Act of 2011, House Bill No. 469 (amended as House Bill 4326). The Bill is designed to elongate the statute of limitations significantly, to allow sex abuse victims until age 43 to bring civil claims against their abusers. The current statute is 3 years from the time of the offense, or the age of 21 for those abused as minors (three years from the age of 18).

Research has shown that many victims do not disclose that they were abused until more than 30 years after the abuse, thereby prohibiting victims from seeking civil justice since their claims are time-barred.

In addition, the proposed bill would open a window in which victims whose claims were previously barred by the statute of limitations would have a short period of time (likely one year) to bring those claims forward in Court. Other states, including California, have opened similar windows in recent years.

To discourage frivolous claims, the proposed bill would require that the victim provide written documentation from a mental health provider (such as psychologists, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, or clinical social workers), setting forth in reasonable detail the facts and opinions relied upon to conclude that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the plaintiff was subject to one or more acts of sexual abuse that would cause emotional or psychological injury or condition. In addition, if the Court finds that a false accusation was made with no basis in fact and with malicious intent, attorneys fees can be awarded to the defense. Simply winning a case does not mean attorneys fees would be granted.

The charitable cap of $20,000 would remain intact. Hopefully that antiquated cap on damages will be the subject of future legislation. Massachusetts is only one of three states that still has such a cap.

On the whole, the proposed bill would go a long way to helping sex abuse victims pursue justice against their abusers, with the recognition that oftentimes three years is not sufficient time for victims to process what has occurred and be ready to face their accusers in litigation. For assistance with any potential claims, please contact the law firm of Fogelman & Fogelman and visit my blog.