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Pennsylvania May Change Law to Allow Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Pennsylvania May Lift Statute of Limitations for Child Sex Abuse Lawsuits

In recent years, public attention generated by various child sex abuse scandals among clergy has prompted a number of states to pass new laws allowing victims of child sex abuse to bring civil lawsuits years later. Pennsylvania is now on the verge of joining these states.

The Pennsylvania state Senate recently passed a new bill that will lift the statute of limitations on child sex abuse civil lawsuits. This will allow child sex abuse victims to bring lawsuits years or decades later, even when the lawsuit was previously barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The new law passed the Senate, but it now needs to be passed in the Pennsylvania House of Delegates (the lower legislative branch in Pennsylvania). If passed in the House, it would then be up to the Governor to sign it into law.

Report Warns that New Law Could Cost Pennsylvania Schools Billions in Liability

Just before the Pennsylvania state senate voted to pass the new bill, the Susquehanna Valley Center for Public Policy (SVCPP) published a report which estimated that the new law would cost state schools billions in legal defense and liability costs. The SVCPP report was an effort to undermine support for passing the new law.

Ironically, however, in estimating that the new law would cost billions, the SVCPP report essentially admits that sexual abuse of children has been a widespread problem in Pennsylvania schools for decades. The SVCPP report estimated that 100,000 sex abuse claims would be filed if the new law were passed. This estimate was based on data from abuse claims in Catholic schools and studies by the U.S. Department of Education.

In terms of an actual cost number, the SVCPP report calculated that claims filed under the new law would cost the state of Pennsylvania and its local jurisdictions anywhere from $5 billion to $32.5 billion. The basis for this cost estimate is somewhat unclear. At least 20 other states, including New York, New Jersey and California, have previously enacted similar laws. There is no indication that the new laws in these states generated overwhelming costs.

Investigation Leads to Pro-Victim Movement

The current push for new laws to hold child sex abusers accountable comes several years after a major investigation in Pittsburg revealed rampant sex abuse priests in the Catholic Church. The investigation ultimately identified over 90 Catholic priests in Pittsburgh area who faced credible accusations of child sex abuse. The investigation further revealed that the Catholic Church actively covered up abuse for decades.

The results of this investigation sparked public outrage and prompted further investigations by the Department of Justice. Over 1,000 victims were identified, almost all of whom were children when the abuse occurred. Under current law in Pennsylvania, however, these victims are barred from bringing civil sex abuse lawsuits based on the statute of limitations.

Catholic Church and Boy Scouts Under Pressure from Sex Abuse Lawsuits

How much the new law being proposed in Pennsylvania will cost state schools remains a subject of debate. For at least two institutions, however, civil liabilities from sex abuse lawsuits have been very real. The new laws allowing child sex abuse victims to bring civil lawsuits has put both the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America under intense financial pressure.

Both the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church have been hit very hard by the new push for accountability. Both organizations have been named in thousands of sex abuse civil lawsuits across the country.

To date, Catholic dioceses in the U.S. have paid over $3 billion in compensation to sexual abuse victims. In many cases, a group of sexual abuse cases are consolidated, and then the church agrees to some global settlement. For example, the Archdioceses of Los Angles agreed to a $660 million payout to settle a group of clergy abuse cases.

The Boy Scouts has face a similar wave of sex abuse lawsuits. In 2020, the Boy Scouts was forced to file for bankruptcy to deal with the mounting liabilities from sex abuse civil lawsuits. In September 2022, the Judge in the Boy Scouts bankruptcy approved a plan to establish a $2.46 billion sex abuse victims fund to pay current and future claims.

Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Civil Lawsuits

Sex abuse or sexual assault can be any type of non-consensual or unwanted sexual touching or sexual contact. Children (under age 18) lack the legal capacity to give consent, so any sexual contact by an adult with a minor is considered sexual abuse.

Child sex abuse is universally despised, and it is a criminal offense in Pennsylvania and all other states in the U.S.  In addition to (or sometimes instead of) criminal prosecution by the state, however, sex abuse victims can also bring civil tort lawsuits against responsible parties and get financial compensation for the pain and suffering caused by the abuse.

Defendants in a civil sex abuse lawsuit can be not only the person who committed the abuse, but also the school, church, company or other organization that negligently failed to prevent the abuse. Common examples of this include schools who fail to protect students from abuse by a teacher or churches that cover up clergy sex abuse.

Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Lawyers

We are currently seeking new cases from individuals in Pennsylvania who were the victims of sex abuse. If you were the victim of abuse, call us today for a free, confidential consultation.

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