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More Church Abuse 'Lookback Windows' Open in 2020

Hands of priest holding rosary and praying over black background
By Andrew Leonatti on January 03, 2020 2:00 PM

We still don't know all there is to know about the horrific child sex abuse and cover-ups that have taken place in Catholic dioceses across the United States.

While thousands of victims have been able to claim compensation and some measure of justice for the trauma they endured, many more have been locked out of the process, due to statutes of limitation.

That began to change in 2019, as several states passed "lookback window" laws, giving people a new opportunity to take legal action against individual priests and dioceses.

What Is a 'Lookback Law'?

When the church sex abuse scandal first sprang to life, many older people who had suffered abuse decades in the past were unable to file lawsuits. Many states have statutes of limitations for filing lawsuits that made them unable to have their day in court.

In response, 15 states have recently revised their laws to temporarily suspend some statutes of limitation specifically for church sex abuse lawsuits.

For instance, New York's lookback law allowed a one-year period beginning Aug. 14, 2019, for anyone of any age to file a suit. After that, anyone age 55 or younger can file a lawsuit. Previous law had an age limit of 23.

New Jersey's new law features a two-year lookback window that started on Dec. 1. California's lookback window opened on New Year's Day and will last for three years. It also allows for up to triple damages if the plaintiff can prove a cover-up. North Carolina's lookback window also opened on Jan. 1. Other states that created lookback windows are:

  • Arizona
  • Hawaii
  • Montana
  • Vermont
  • Washington, D.C.

Even several states that did not open lookback windows have raised the age limits for filing lawsuits. These states are:

  • Alabama
  • Connecticut
  • Michigan
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Texas

Flood of Lawsuits Expected

According to the Associated Press, the new laws will likely lead to thousands more lawsuits against churches across the country in the coming years. More than 1,000 have already been filed in New York alone.

Lawyers who are experienced in these cases have already reported signing up hundreds of clients.

In response, plaintiffs and their lawyers can expect stiff resistance from dioceses, which fear the lawsuits can bring about financial ruin. Some may join the 20 dioceses across the country that have already filed for bankruptcy, a strategy to halt lawsuits and give the court more power to hand out settlements while allowing churches to remain financially viable.

What Are Your Options?

If you've suffered for years from the trauma of childhood abuse at the hands of trusted clergy, these new laws provide a new opportunity to seek accountability. No financial compensation can give back what was taken, but a lawsuit does allow you to take control.

While 15 states have revised their laws in the last few years, it's also important to realize that these changes may not apply to your case. Lawyers who are experienced with these types of cases may be able to answer your questions.

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