15 States Extend Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse from Clergy Members

February 19, 2020 | David Abels
15 States Extend Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse from Clergy Members

Damages Could Top $4 Billion

For years, the statutes of limitations on sexual abuse and on rape has prevented many people from seeking compensation after suffering sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic Church official. But not anymore. Fifteen states—including New York, California, and New Jersey—have passed resolutions allowing victims to file sexual abuse claims against members of the clergy even when the abuse occurred many years ago. The resulting lawsuits are expected to result in judgments and settlements of $4 billion.

Starting the Investigation

A Pennsylvania grand jury report indicated that approximately 300 priests across the state abused more than 1,000 children during multiple decades. That, in turn, resulted in the Illinois Attorney General to commission its own highly critical report. Illinois has since removed the statute of limitations involving sex crimes against children, and more recently removed the statute of limitations for sex crimes against adults. However, please note that there is still a civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases in Illinois. Unfortunately, many of those children no longer had the right to file personal injury claims against their abusers or against the church that allowed it to happen. Thanks to new changes in the law, however, those individuals, who have suffered in silence for so long, now have the right to come forward with their claims.

The Potential Ramifications

In California, New York, and New Jersey alone—states with heavy Catholic populations—could see payouts ranging from $1.8 billion to $6 billion. As the flood of lawsuits continues to come in, many attorneys are opening their doors and offering advice and assistance to aid victims who want to seek compensation for their suffering. For victims, that can mean many things.
  • Victims can receive compensation for the abuse they suffered as children. Financial compensation cannot erase abuse or the effects of that abuse suffered over the victim’s lifetime. It can, however, provide those victims with some compensation. Some victims may use that compensation to seek mental health assistance to recover from that abuse. Others may choose to use the compensation to build brighter lives and futures for themselves, bringing something good out of the tragedy that they suffered as children.
  • Victims can speak out about what happened to them. As children, victims might have feared speaking out or felt that they had no voice. As adults, however, victims can speak out and share their stories. Many people find it cathartic to share what happened to them. Others may want to work to create better standards that can prevent future abuse. By speaking out, many victims can help pave the way to prevent future abuse and protect other children from suffering what they went through.

What Happens if You, as a Former Victim, File a Claim?

If you suffered sexual abuse from a member of the clergy as a child, you have a limited amount of time to file a claim—in California, the window remains open for three years, while in New Jersey, the window ends after just two years. This process will involve several key steps, which are discussed in further detail below. A lawyer in your state can help you determine how much time you have to file a claim.

Step One: Consult an Attorney

Filing a claim for sexual abuse that occurred during your childhood does not have to be done through an attorney. Having an attorney on your side, however, can offer many advantages. An attorney has your interests at heart throughout the process, focusing on ensuring that you get what you need from the process and that your needs receive the respect you deserve. Often, working with an attorney can also significantly increase the compensation you receive from your claim.

Step Two: Review Any Evidence or Impact of the Abuse

In the case of decades-old claims, collecting evidence can prove extremely difficult. Consult with an experienced attorney to learn more about what evidence you may still find. Your testimony can help provide the background needed to establish the abuse you faced as a child. You may also discuss with your attorney what impacts that sexual abuse had on the later years of your life, including: 15 States Extend Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse from Clergy Members Abels and Annes Law
  • Depression, including ongoing depression throughout your life
  • Flashbacks
  • PTSD
  • Self-harm
  • Substance abuse
  • STDs
  • Eating disorders
  • Struggle with insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Disassociation

Step Three: File a Claim

While you have the right to file a claim yourself, having an attorney on your side can make it much easier to handle a legal claim against the Catholic Church. An attorney can help put together your full claim and file a demand for reparation for the suffering that you faced as a result of the sexual abuse.

Step Four: Negotiate

How long it takes to receive compensation for the abuse you suffered as a child—and how long you have to deal with the legal process—will depend on your willingness to negotiate. In many cases, the responsible party—in this case, the Catholic Church—will come back with a settlement offer lower than your original demand. You can accept that offer or continue to fight to secure compensation for the full cost of your injuries. If you cannot reach an agreement through negotiation with the help of your attorney, you may move on to mediation, during which a judge or former judge will act as a mediator to help you and the Church reach a resolution. In many cases, you can achieve a satisfactory resolution by working with a mediator. When a mediator cannot help you reach a satisfactory agreement, you may choose to take your claim to court. If you take your claim to court, you will have the opportunity to share your story, explaining how the sexual abuse you suffered at the hands of the Church as a child has impacted you throughout your life. Over the years our law firm has achieved our best results with litigation in court. Please note that when a lawsuit is filed, we used a pseudonym and your identity remains confidential by court order.

Did You Suffer Abuse at the Hands of the Catholic Church?

If you suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic church as a child, you should act now to seek the compensation you deserve for that abuse and its long-term impact on your life. Sexual abuse leaves many victims filled with shame, or it may cause them to struggle when they establish sexual relationships later in their lives. If you suffered sexual abuse, contact an attorney as soon as possible to start the process of filing your claim before the window for filing that claim closes.
Abels & Annes, P.C. 100 N LaSalle St #1710 Chicago, IL 60602 (312) 924-7575
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David Abels


David Abels has carved a niche for himself in the personal injury law sector, dedicating a substantial part of his career since 1997 to representing victims of various accidents. With a law practice that spans over two decades, his expertise has been consistently recognized within the legal community.

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