Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are debating a historic piece of legislation, which would allow more time for survivors of child sexual assault to file civil and criminal lawsuits. After passing the state house earlier this year, it now awaits its fate in the senate judiciary committee.
The senate committee hearing drew dozens of courageous survivors advocating for the statute of limitations reform. Many survivors were those abused by clergy. Part of the renewed motivation to change the laws can be credited to the 2018 grand jury report, which detailed widespread child sexual abuse throughout the commonwealth’s eight Catholic diocese (read more about the grand jury process). With over 300 priests credibly accused, what is even more disturbing, and well documented, in the 900-page report, is the Church’s systematic denial and cover-up.
Aside from survivors in support of the bill, the recent senate committee hearing drew critics as well. Insurance companies, of course, have long been opposed to the idea of increasing their exposure and potential liability that would undoubtedly result from longer statute of limitations. But two of the most powerful groups lobbying against reform are The Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America. USA TODAY Reports that nationwide, over 200 bills aiming to change statute of limitations laws have died since 2009.
Whether the latest bill in Pennsylvania will die in committee or go before the senate floor for a vote is in the hands of GOP Judiciary chairwoman, Senator Lisa Baker, did not comment after the hearing. Even if the bill does pass, its constitutionality will likely be challenged. Past state courts have said it’s illegal to retroactively change statute of limitations laws to allow lawsuits under the constitution’s remedies clause.
In addition to the bills extending time limits for civil and criminal charges, there is another bill pending, which grants a two-year window for survivors to file suit in cases that would otherwise be expired.
Kelly R. McClintock joined Grewal Law in 2019 to help establish a human trafficking litigation division and to assist Grewal’s already successful practices, including sexual assault litigation, and family law.