A Civil Sex Abuse Lawyer’s Analysis of House Bill 661
Legislators in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives are pushing major changes in an effort to increase access to the courts for survivors of child molestation and sex abuse. House Bill 661 was introduced by Representative Mark Rozzi, a Democrat serving Berks County. Rozzi is a survivor of child sex abuse by a priest who has since died. Rozzi has been very proactive about amending dated laws to help fellow survivors of abuse. Two years ago, he attempted to pass similar legislature.
HB 661 – Amendment to the PA Statute of Limitations for Child Molestation in Civil Lawsuits
HB 661 would amend Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations in civil child molestation cases. Currently, survivors of child molestation and sex abuse have until their 30th birthday to file suit. The amendment would raise the age to 50. Below is the text of the proposed amendments to 42 PA C.S. Section 5533 (Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations law). The amendments are underlined.
(2)(i) If an individual entitled to bring a civil action arising from childhood sexual abuse is under 18 years of age at the time the cause of action accrues, the individual shall have a period of 32 years after attaining 18 years of age in which to commence an action for damages regardless of whether the individual files a criminal complaint regarding the childhood sexual abuse.
(3) If a person committing an act of childhood sexual abuse against a minor was employed by an institution, agency, firm, business, corporation or other public or private legal entity that owed a duty of care to the victim, or the accused and the minor were engaged in some activity over which the entity had some degree of responsibility or control, damages against the entity shall be awarded only if there is a finding of gross negligence on the part of the entity.
HB 661 Would Allow Government Agencies to be Held Liable for Child Sex Abuse Under State Law
HB 661 would also allow government agencies to be held liable for child sex abuse. Currently, government agencies in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania cannot be held liable for child sexual abuse under state law. In some cases, government agencies may be held liable for violation of state or federal constitutional law. However, these cases are very complex, and oftentimes, victims lose their cases due to strict legal standards.
HB 661 would amend two state laws, the Pennsylvania Sovereign Immunity Act (Section 8522) and the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. These two laws basically prevent individuals from bringing injury/accident cases against state, county, local agencies. In other words, government agencies are immune from liability.
There are specific exceptions under each law, such as liability for defective sidewalks in front of a government building. However, child sexual abuse is certainly not on the list of exceptions under either law.
HB 661 would amend these laws so that government agencies and public officials could be held liable when a government employee commits the act of abuse during the course and scope of employment. If passed, government agencies could be held liable for acts of gross negligence which lead to child sex abuse. The amendment would not be retroactive, meaning that the new law would only apply to acts of child abuse which occur after the law takes effect.
The Proposed Amendments to the Pennsylvania Sovereign Immunity Act (Section 8522) and the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (Section 8542)
The proposed amendments to these two laws are substantially the same. HB 661 would create a new exception to the principle of governmental immunity in Pennsylvania. Here are the proposed amendments:
(b) Acts which may impose liability.–The following acts by a local agency or any of its employees may result in the imposition of liability on a local agency:
(9) Child sexual abuse.–Acts of child sexual abuse which constitute gross negligence when committed by individuals employed by a public institution, agency or other legal entity for which actions are brought under section 5533(b) (relating to infancy, insanity or imprisonment).
Government Immunity Time Limitation Law Changes
HB 661 would also amend a special law applicable in government liability cases. That law, 42 PA C.S. Section 5522 requires individuals to provide written notice to the appropriate government agency. The notice must be filed within 6 months of the incident or accident. If passed, the law would be amended so that the 6 month time limitation would not apply to victims of child sex abuse.
Please Support Access to the Courts for Victims of Child Sex Abuse
Contact your state legislators and tell them you support HB 661.
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