Opening a Window for Justice – The Adult Survivors Act
Continuing the recent legislative trend of protecting the rights of sex crime victims, New York State recently passed the Adult Survivors Act ("ASA"). The new legislation will allow victims of sexual offenses that occurred when they were over the age of 18 to file a civil lawsuit within a one-year window, which will begin six months from signing the bill into law and will allow survivors to sue regardless of the previous statute of limitations. Although New York had already passed a law extending the statute of limitations to 20 years for adults filing civil suits on a number of sex related crimes, that law was not retroactive and did not apply to prior incidents.
The ASA also grants trial preference to such actions and directs the Chief Administrator of the Courts to promulgate rules that enable the claims to be adjudicated in a timely manner. The act is broad in scope, and will cover approximately 20 crimes that are set forth in Article 30 of New York Penal Law’s sections on sex crimes, as well as crimes of incest. Some of these crimes include forcible touching, sexual abuse, and rape.
The Adult Survivors Act follows the previous Child Victims Act which similarly created a one-year retroactive window in 2019 to allow victims of sexual abuse who were under the age of 18 at the time of the incident to sue on claims that would normally be barred by the statute of limitations. The Child Victims Act provided some insight as to the legality and constitutionality of retroactive laws such as these, which have been a point of contention in these previous civil suits. The court in one instance found that the Child Victims Act was a reasonable response to remedy an injustice, and therefore did not violate a defendant’s right to due process under the New York State Constitution. Torrey v. Portville Cent. Sch., 125 N.Y.S.3d 531 (Cattaraugus Co. Sup. Ct. 2020).
Aside from the constitutionality of these claims, another issue which arises when filing a lawsuit is whether a plaintiff is or should be allowed to remain anonymous. New York's highest court has held that due process requires that a party know the identity of their accuser so that the defendant can properly prepare a defense to the action. N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 3013. There are certain exceptions to this, as articulated by courts of varying jurisdictions. One New York court in Rockland County found that only in the most compelling of cases in which a court can conclude that disclosure of a party's identity presents the potential of immediate harm to the wellbeing of that party, or other innocent parties, should a court consider concealing the identity of a party from all other parties. To do otherwise, the court stated, would jeopardize the opposing party's right to due process. Other courts have employed the use of balancing of interests tests in order to determine whether a plaintiff may be allowed to maintain an action under a pseudonym. In one instance the court weighed the plaintiff's interest in anonymity against both the public interest in disclosure and any prejudice to the defendant. Some courts have exhaustive factors that they analyze in making this determination.
As these ASA lawsuits begin to be filed, acting swiftly is essential for both plaintiffs and defendants. Plaintiffs must act within the time frame established by the courts, and potential defendants must be diligent in investigating claims and preserving evidence when they first learn of a possible claim. For assistance with these matters, please contact us to learn more.
About the author: Peter J. Gregory is a partner with the firm. He is a trial lawyer with extensive experience resolving disputes in state and federal trial courts. His personal injury practice focuses on advising clients who have been injured or lost loved ones in accidents caused by the carelessness or recklessness of others. Please feel free to contact him directly at email@example.com or (585) 512-3506.
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McConville Considine Cooman & Morin, P.C. is a full-service law firm based in Rochester, New York, providing high-quality legal services to businesses and individuals since 1979. With over a dozen attorneys and a full paralegal support staff, the firm is well-positioned to right-size services tailored to each client. We are large enough to provide expertise in a broad range of practice areas, yet small enough to devote prompt, personal attention to our clients.
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