Maryland Child Sex Abuse Victims Have Until Age 38 (Previously Age 25) to File Civil Lawsuits
This year, the Maryland legislature joined a growing list of states which have recognized that victims of child sex abuse and assault should be given more time to take legal action against perpetrators and those that knowingly harbored them.
House Bill (HB) 642 was signed into law in April. It amends several laws pertaining to sex abuse lawsuits. Two of the most important changes include an extension of time for child molestation lawsuits and a special section that details lawsuits against other persons or government entities for allowing sexual abuse or assault to occur.
The New Statute of Limitations Law
Under the previous version of the statute of limitations law, victims had until their 25 birthday (7 years after turning 18 years of age). See Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings Section 5–117(b), which provides: An action for damages arising out of an alleged incident or incidents of sexual abuse that occurred while the victim was a minor shall be filed within 7 years of the date that the victim attains the age of majority.
Effective October 1, 2017, victims of child molestation in Maryland now have 20 years after reaching 18 years of age (age 38). Alternatively, the new law also allows for the possibility of filing civil lawsuits even later. Under Section 5-117(b)(2)(II), victims may file civil lawsuits up to 3 years after the date the perpetrator is convicted of a crime relating to the incident. The conviction can occur in any state or in federal court. However, this special section only applies to civil lawsuit filed against the perpetrator.
Maryland Child Sex Abuse or Assault Lawsuits Against Other Parties or Government Agencies
HB 642 puts a time limit for cases involving other parties or government Agencies. These types of lawsuits, usually filed in cases involving schools, churches or youth organizations, must be filed no later than 20 years after the victim reaches 18 years of age (age 38). Sections 5-117(c) and (d), which were created by HB 642, provide:
(c) In an action brought under this section more than 7 years after the victim reaches the age of majority, damages may be awarded against a person or government entity that is not the alleged perpetrator of the sexual abuse only if:
- The person or government entity owed a duty of care to the victim;
- The person or government entity employed the alleged perpetrator or exercised some degree of responsibility or control over the alleged perpetrator; and
- There is a finding of gross negligence on the part of the person or government entity.
(d) In no event may an action for damages arising out of an alleged incident or incidents of sexual abuse that occurred while the victim was a minor be filed against a person or government entity that is not the alleged perpetrator more than 20 years after the date on which the victim reaches the age of majority.
The new law specifically allows filing child sex abuse lawsuits against entities such as private schools, public schools, churches, etc. However, in order to succeed, there must be evidence of gross negligence, which is usually defined as a great deviation from reasonable conduct, or a severe lack of care that shows a conscious, reckless disregard for the safety and welfare of others.
This is a heightened standard and is often applied in lawsuits against government entities. From a public policy standpoint, suing the government should be a little harder than suing non-government entities.
In our civil sex assault law practice, we are often able to establish that schools, churches and other youth organizations which employed or otherwise allowed an adult to have contact with children, acted with gross negligence.
The new law also exempts victims from a notice requirement in cases against government entities. Whenever a citizen decides to sue a government entity, they are usually required by law to serve the entity with notice of the intent to sue. These notices are usually required to be sent within some time frame. In Maryland, that time frame is 1 year. In Pennsylvania, it is usually 180 days or 6 months. Under Section 5-304, victims of child sex abuse or assault are not subject to the 1 year notice requirement.
Retroactivity Not Included in the New Law
HB 642 specifically states that it does not revive lawsuits that were previously time-barred. What this means is that the law cannot apply to cases that expired before its effective date, October 1, 2017. Some states have enacted retroactive laws in child molestation cases. For example, the Delaware legislature passed a retroactive law in 2007. It revived lawsuits that were previously deemed too old to be filed. Read about a successful child molestation lawsuit brought by our firm against a state court judge in Delaware. It was filed under the retroactive law.
Other states such as Pennsylvania have considered passing similar retroactive laws, which are also known as civil windows, because they open a brief window of time that allows these cases to be filed.
Sex Abuse & Assault Victims Law Firm
Laffey, Bucci & Kent handles sex assault and abuse lawsuits nationwide. Our lawyers are licensed in multiple states. Contact our lawyers for a free consultation. 800.220.7600
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