Access to the Courts in Child Sex Abuse Cases – Pennsylvania Legislation Update 2017

In the 2016-2017 legislative session, Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering major changes to civil statute of limitations laws in cases of child molestation. The Senate and House have different views on whether to increase access to the courts for victims of abuse whose cases are now too old to be filed.

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Pennsylvania’s legislators just can’t agree on justice for child sexual abuse and assault, such as priest sex abuse of a child or teacher sex assault of a student. It’s been an ongoing saga for much of the last 10 years.

Since the Philadelphia Archdiocese priest sex abuse scandal broke over 10 years ago, the PA legislature has considered multiple amendments to civil and criminal child sex abuse and molestation laws.

The problem is that the Senate and House continue to disagree about what to do for victims whose civil cases are time-barred by statute of limitations laws. Both have considered similar versions of amendments to statute of limitations laws in Pennsylvania, specifically those that apply to child molestation lawsuits. The problem is that they are getting hung up on one main issue.

The critical issue is a civil window, which has been passed in other states like Delaware, Minnesota, etc. A civil window opens a certain window of time, usually 2 years. The window revives cases which were too old to be filed due to statute of limitations laws.

House Bill  612 versus Senate Bill 261 – Justice for Victims of Child Sex Abuse and Assault

Senate Bill 261 would raise the current statute of limitations for civil lawsuits in cases of child sex abuse to 32 years after the victim turns 18 (i.e., the victim’s 50th birthday). The current law gives victims until their 30th birthday, for abuse that occurred before August 2002.

In a nutshell, the Pennsylvania Senate only wants to look ahead and make it easier for future victims of child sex abuse to get justice. Essentially, the Senate would increase access to the courts for children who are sexually abused in the future, i.e., after the Senate version of the amendment gets passed.

On the other hand, the House wants to look both ahead and backwards. House Bill 612 would eliminate the statute of limitations for child sex abuse lawsuits altogether. This would apply to acts of abuse that occur after the amendment is passed. The House also wants to help victims of abuse whose cases are just too old. HB 612 would open a 2 year civil window.

Last year, the Senate and House engaged in the same fight. After the House voted unanimously to pass its version, the Senate responded by declaring the civil window unconstitutional. The Senate Judiciary Committee sent a version of the bill, without the civil window, back to the House, which rejected it. Read more about 2015-2016 legislative action for the civil window. We’re now back to square one. Stay tuned.

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