New Law Expected to Significantly Increase Filings of Federal Civil Suits Arising Out of Childhood Sexual Abuse
New York, N.Y. (September 26, 2022) - On September 16, 2022, President Biden signed into law the Eliminating Limits to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims Act (the Act), Public Law No. 117-176, which amended 18 U.S. Code sec. 2255 and eliminated any statute of limitations for federal civil claims related to sex abuse crimes against minors, including forced labor, sex trafficking, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children. Prior to enacting the Act, victims of childhood abuse were able to file federal claims until they reached the age of 28 or until a decade after the violation or injury was discovered. No federal statute of limitations was in place for criminal claims regarding child sex abuse.
The Act garnered significant bipartisan support. The Senate Judiciary Committee Statement announcing the House Passage of the Act on September 13, 2022, highlighted the tendency of survivors of child sex abuse to wait years before disclosing their abuse as a basis for the Act. Child sexual abuse victims often do not disclose their abuse until several years after the abuse occurred, many times well past the previously applicable statutes of limitations.
Under 18 U.S. Code sec. 2255, a plaintiff may “recover the actual damages such person sustains or liquidated damages in the amount of $150,000, and the cost of the action, including reasonable fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred. The court may also award punitive damages and such other preliminary and equitable relief as the court determines to be appropriate.” The removal of any statute of limitations in the Act, would make it more enticing for a plaintiff’s firm to bring an action in federal court since they would be entitled to attorneys’ fees, which may be unavailable in certain state court actions.
Unlike various states’ legislation, which expanded statutes of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse to bring civil actions, the Act is silent as to cases that were previously dismissed because of prior existing statute of limitations. Furthermore, the Act became effective immediately on September 16, when it was signed by President Biden.
Since the Act only recently went into effect, the federal judiciary has not established any uniform or local rules regarding how these cases will be handled in each district court. For context, after New York enacted the New York Child Victim’s Act, approximately 10,000 cases have been filed to date against individual and organizational defendants in New York. We anticipate that plaintiffs’ firms whose clients have claims currently barred by state statute of limitations will seek to use the Act to bring these claims in federal court, leading to an explosion of such cases nationwide. With the possibility of potential defendants being exposed to liability in multiple district courts, it is important to establish a cohesive defense strategy where possible.
Eileen T. Budd, Partner
Thomas D. Vu, Partner