A statute of limitations is a law that requires a plaintiff to bring a lawsuit within a statutory time frame after an event. A court cannot hear the claim if a lawsuit is filed after the legislatively-prescribed period. Recently, many state legislatures are reconsidering statutes of limitations regarding child abuse claims. Reform advocates contend that some current statutes of limitations are too restrictive, given that victims often wait years to disclose their abuse. According to a 2021 study, the average age of disclosure is 52 years old. A push for reform has increased since the early 2000s due partly to widespread allegations of cover-ups and abuse in the Catholic Church.
New Jersey Bill to Increase Statute of Limitations
In January 2022, Senator Joseph Vitale introduced S1268, which would increase the statute of limitations on certain crimes from 5 to 10 years. The crimes would include aggravated assault, robbery, carjacking, arson, causing widespread injury or damage, burglary theft by extortion, endangering the welfare of a child, corrupting or influencing a jury, possession of weapons for unlawful purposes, and weapons training for illegal activities. The legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee and is pending. New Jersey’s session runs from 2021–2023.
Pennsylvania Special Session to Address Child Abuse Statute of Limitations
On January 6, 2023, Governor Tom Wolf called for a special session of the General Assembly to consider a constitutional amendment to retroactively extend the timeline for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file civil actions. On January 9, 2023, Pennsylvania House Speaker Mark Rozzi stated that the House was gridlocked over the measure. While Rozzi canceled several days’ sessions, Rozzi intends to form a working group of three Republicans and three Democrats to try to come to a solution.
South Carolina Statute of Limitations Bill Filed
In November 2022, State Senator Gerald Malloy pre-filed S0084, which would amend the statute of limitations for victims of sexual assault, sexual abuse, or incest, in addition to the age an individual must be to make claims. The legislation would raise the age a person must be from before 21 to before 55 and from within three years to five years from the time of discovery. As of January 2023, it was pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Vermont Child Abuse Statute of Limitations Bill Introduced
In January 2023, State Representative Sarah Austin introduced H.8. The legislation would repeal the statute of limitations for victims of “childhood emotional abuse” committed by a person other than the individual’s parent who was in a position of authority or influence over the child. If enacted, the legislation would repeal any statute of limitations for such abuse retroactively to abuse that occurred before July 1, 2023. As of January 2023, the legislation was pending in the House Judiciary Committee.
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