Statute of Limitations

A bill currently working it’s way through the Connecticut Legislature would remove the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases. On the surface that sounds like a reasonable thing to do; until, that is, you consider the very possible effect of that legislation if it is passed.

Currently, under Connecticut law, a person who had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of an adult can file a lawsuit against the person or institution responsible for that abuse until his/her 48th birthday. If the current limitation of “30 years past the person’s 18th birthday” is removed, anyone at any age can claim he/she was abused at any time in the past and file a lawsuit asking for compensation.

The quandary is, as this CNN Justice article points out: Connecticut bishops fight sex abuse bill: “the bill would allow claims that are 70 years or older, in which key individuals are deceased, memories have been faded, and documents and other evidence have been lost.”

Even now, with the current Statute of Limitations, the situation is a virtual Disneyland for trial lawyers who will press for “a settlement”, even in cases where there is little or no evidence — and organizations and institutions, even if they are totally innocent of the charges, will most often pay those settlements rather than spend years in court and millions in lawyers fees defending themselves. If the Statute of Limitations was lifted, the number of law suits would no doubt multiply; and most of the new law suits would probably be filed by people who have no legitimate claim to compensation, people who just want to take advantage of an unfortunate situation.

Over the past weekend, the Connecticut Catholic Bishops posted a letter on their website and distributed it to every Catholic Church in the state. The letter makes their case that “The legislation would undermine the mission of the Catholic Church in Connecticut, threatening our parishes, our schools, and our Catholic Charities.” All Connecticut Catholics are being urged to contact their representatives and oppose this bill (H.B. 5473).

The Catholic church has, of course, the most to loose because they have made themselves the biggest target in the child-sex abuse arena by their inability to keep their house in order; but they are correct on this one.

In my opinion even that “30 years past the age of 18” is, at least in the majority of cases, far too permissive. At some point after any incident, reality tends to get skewed and many false memories and mental exaggerations will take the place of accurate memory. A 2007 Science Daily report suggests that while “children’s memory of long-ago events may be more accurate than previously thought” there is also a risk that “children’s memories have been contaminated by false information.” As years are added to the process, it will be even more unlikely that original memories are untainted.

Links:

CNN Justice: Connecticut bishops fight sex abuse bill

Connecticut Catholic Conference: Connecticut Bishop’s Statement on H.B. 5473

Science Daily: Children’s Memory Of Long-Ago Events May Be More Accurate Than Previously Thought

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