A new law sponsored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) and takes effect Jan. 1, raises the statute of limitations to 40 years of age, or up to five years after discovery of sexual abuse. The law also opens a three-year window that allows victims of any age to sue on previously expired claims.
The new law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week, is expected to result in an avalanche of litigation aimed at indelible institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America, as well as local school districts, foster care agencies, hospitals and youth sports organizations.
Gonzalez had tried to get a similar version of the law passed last year, but then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it.
Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, had called it a “matter of fundamental fairness.”
“There comes a time when an individual or organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits,” Brown wrote in a 2013 memo. “With the passage of time, evidence may be lost or disposed of, memories fade and witnesses move away or die.”
A similar one-year window had been allowed in California to file child abuse lawsuits in 2003, when most outrage was aimed at the Catholic Church over decades of abuse and cover-up. The flurry of litigation resulted in state dioceses paying a total of $1.2 billion in settlements.
Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan said in a statement that the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego did not oppose Gonzalez’s bill, but it questioned the exception that protects state agencies from liability and sought “changes that would have made sure no victim was left out and that any person who was the victim of sexual abuse as a minor could have their day in court.”
The diocese, along with five others in the state, has given victims of Catholic abuse another option: to take a confidential settlement as part of the newly launched Victims Compensation Fund. If a settlement is accepted, the victim cannot sue.
Thousands of Californians appear to be lining up in anticipation of the chance to go to court.
“Our phones have been ringing pretty much off the hook,” said San Diego attorney Irwin Zalkin, who represents victims in sex abuse cases.
His firm already has about 150 to 200 cases that are being prepared to file over the next couple of years, he said. Most involve the Catholic Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Full story at LA Times.