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Child Victims Act opens door to possible flood of survivors seeking justice

Office of the Governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the Child Victims Act Thursday.

More victims of sexual abuse will get a chance to tell their story, perhaps to a jury, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act into law Thursday.

The bill has been fought over in Albany for years, stalled by Republicans in the State Senate. They were reacting to pressure from Catholic bishops and others not to re-open the court system to those whose molestation goes back beyond the statute of limitations.

With the Democrats controlling the Senate this year, a heavily amended version of the law passed. It was expanded to so victims can file lawsuits against family members and public schools.

Legal activist and lobbyist for the law William Lorenz Jr. said these are big changes in the law.

"There is the one-year revival window for people with claims that were previously time-barred," Lorenz said. "However, going forward, the statue of limitations for criminal actions has been raised from age 23 to age 28 and civil actions from age 23 to age 55."

While the law takes full effect Friday, some provisions will not go into effect until August 14 to let judges be trained in its provisions.
"My office has been flooded with calls since the bill passed in the State Legislature, just in the past two weeks. I expect that's going to continue now that the bill is officially law," hew said. "So certainly people under the age of 55 will be able to commence lawsuits. For people that have to wait for the revival window, that doesn't take effect until six months from today, which will be Aug. 14."

Lorenz said that since these will be treated as personal injury lawsuits, legal discovery rules apply, so someone filing suit can seek access to such things as personnel records of clergy and teachers to look for a history.

"Once the action is actually commenced and you subpoena records, they can try to fight all they want in court, but the general discovery process, I doubt they'll be enabled to keep very many things secret any more," Lorenz said.

He said there area lot of victims out there and far more than just victims of Catholic clerics considering lawsuits.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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