The loosening of limits on sexual abuse claims in New Jersey is expected to create a tectonic shift in the way those lawsuits are brought, giving hope to victims who have long suffered in silence and exposing a broader spectrum of institutions to potential liability.
A law passed last spring goes into effect Sunday and allows child victims to sue until they turn 55, or within seven years of their first realization that the abuse caused them harm. The limit was two years before the new law. Adult victims also have seven years from the discovery of the abuse, and victims who were previously barred by the statute of limitations have a two-year window to file claims.
New Jersey’s push for expanding the statute of limitations gained momentum from last year’s release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that catalogued the experiences of thousands of victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the church’s cover-up of the scandal.
Many states have overhauled their criminal and civil statutes of limitations in the last 10 or 15 years, but just a handful including California, Delaware, Hawaii and Minnesota have created so-called lookback windows for lawsuits. New York enacted a bill earlier this year that creates a window similar to the one in New Jersey.