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May 23, 2019Download PDF

New Jersey Extends the Statute of Limitations in Civil Actions for Sexual Abuse Claims

It is crucial for litigants, attorneys, and the overall community to be aware of S477, which legally extends the statute of limitations in civil actions for sexual abuse claims. Governor Phil Murphy signed this legislation into law on May 13, 2019. The primary sponsors of the Bill included Senators Joseph Vitale and Nicholas Scutari; and Assembly members Annette Quijano, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, and Mila Jasey. See, New Jersey Legislature, Bill Number S477.

This new increases the civil statute of limitations for sexual assault to seven years, up from the previous two-year cut-off. Concerning adult survivors of child sexual abuse, the Bill expands the statute of limitations to either seven years past the discovery of the trauma (i.e., when an individual who was assaulted links the trauma of that assault to the harm done to that specific individual), or until age 55, whichever is later.

The Bill also creates a two-year window during which sexual assault victims, who were previously denied their day in court due to the prior two-year limitation period, can nevertheless now pursue their civil remedies.

Lastly, the Bill creates a carve-out for the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, such that public entities (i.e., municipalities, schools, and other public bodies) would be stripped of immunity from lawsuits asserting claims of sexual abuse, and such entities could be held liable as if they were a private individual and/or organization.

The Bill has been applauded, as the State has expanded sexual abuse victims’ potential legal remedies: “Survivors of sexual abuse deserve opportunities to seek redress against their abusers,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “This legislation allows survivors who have faced tremendous trauma the ability to pursue justice through the court system. I thank the bill’s sponsors for their commitment to tackling this issue, as well as the advocates for their activism and engagement.” See, “Sexual abuse survivors often struggle for years to come to terms with their abuse, especially child victims,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle. “We must allow victims the time to realize the damage that has been done to them both physically and mentally. Survivors of sexual abuse deserve a fair opportunity to seek justice.” Id.

New Jersey now follows a national trend of various states assessing their respective statutes of limitations for these types of cases. From a legal perspective, accused individuals and entities, along with potential plaintiffs, must be prepared to litigate these matters, where, for example, important witnesses have died, crucial discovery documents may no longer exist, and/or other evidence might not be available anymore due to the passage of time. The Bill will, undoubtedly, increase exposure of individuals, businesses, public entities, and other organizations in New Jersey, while affording plaintiffs expanded opportunities to pursue their respective claims. All parties should be prepared to litigate these matters, in light of this changed landscape. Entities potentially exposed to such claims should immediately check their historical insurance coverages, in the event a claim should arise. Simultaneously, plaintiffs should determine and seek as much corroborating evidence and proofs as possible, in order to demonstrate a legal basis for relief.

Should such claims be filed, following the passage of S477, it is advisable for all parties to retain legal counsel in order to advise of these statute of limitations issues, proper pleading requirements, and other substantive dictates necessary to either the prosecution or defense of such claims.