Statute of Limitations Laws in Pennsylvania Child Molestation Cases
Statute of limitations laws work like stop watches. In order to be able to proceed with a civil lawsuit for a child molestation case, the lawsuit must be filed by the victim’s 30th birthday. This 30th birthday cutoff date was passed back in 2002. Prior to that, victims of child molestation had until their 23rd birthday. The birthday cutoff only applies to child sex abuse cases, such as those against churches, schools, etc.
In the most recent legislative session, Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering two bills which would result in major changes to Pennsylvania statute of limitations laws in child molestation cases. Child molestation law changes have been on the legislative agenda in Pennsylvania for practically a decade. Since the Philadelphia Archdiocese priest abuse scandal broke over 10 years ago, legislators have sought to close loopholes, increase punishments for criminal offenders and help victims get justice through the civil courts (i.e., filing a lawsuit).
For the last several years, Pennsylvania’s legislature has been considering whether to open a special window which would revive lawsuits that were previously time-barred. This is known as a civil window or retroactive clause.
What’s the Big Deal with Civil Windows?
The two bills up for consideration by the House and Senate differ in a fundamental way. The two chambers cannot agree on the retroactive clause. Last year, the Senate refused to allow the civil window. It relied on an opinion by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office that such a civil window would be unconstitutional. The Senate’s version is backed by major lobbying groups including insurance organizations and the Catholic Church.
Under the House’s version, the retroactive clause would be allowed, opening a 2 year window for old lawsuits. Representative Rozzi (Berks County) has led the charge in the House. As a victim of child molestation by a priest, Rozzi has taken a special interest in helping victims of child sex abuse.
If Pennsylvania passes a retroactive clause, it wouldn’t be the first. A handful of other states have passed similar laws.
Several years ago, Delaware passed a civil window. As a result, our law firm represented a man in his child molestation lawsuit filed against a sitting state court judge. That case, Kelly v. Bradley (Case# 1:09-ev-00282-LDD), ended with a public admission of the abuse as well as a confidential settlement. The defendant was removed from the bench and disbarred.
The Kelly case is a prime example of why we need these types of civil windows. In the case, the criminal and civil statute of limitations law prevented Kelly from taking any legal action whatsoever, that is until the civil window was passed. Watch a YouTube video interview about the Kelly case at the National Crime Victims Bar Association.
The reality is that child predators rely on silence to commit their atrocious acts. Opening civil windows helps to end the cycle of silence that creates additional victims. Hopefully, the Pennsylvania legislature will agree on the civil window and thereby help countless victims across PA.
About Brian Kent – Top Rated Injury Lawyer & Victims Advocate
Mr. Kent is rated as a top injury lawyer in Philadelphia by Super Lawyers. He is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois. As a former sex crimes unit prosecutor, Mr. Kent is passionate about helping victims of sex abuse obtain justice. He routinely lectures on topics related to justice for victims.
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