Analysis of Senate Bill 770: Pennsylvania Lawmakers Try to Help Survivors of Child Sex Abuse


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Recent legislation introduced into the 2015-2016 session would help victims of child molestation in two ways. Senate Bill 770 was introduced by Pennsylvania Senator Andrew Dinniman, Democrat, Chester County. Chester County is a suburb of Philadelphia.

First, the proposed law would raise the current statute of limitations for civil lawsuits to age 50, i.e., victims would have until their 50th birthday to file a civil lawsuit. This would mirror the criminal statute of limitations. Currently, survivors of child molestation have until their 30th birthday to file civil lawsuits. The 30th birthday cutoff applies to acts of child sex abuse that occurred after August 27, 2002. For acts that occurred before August 27, 2002, the civil statute of limitations or cutoff is the victim’s 23rd birthday. It is crucial to note that statute of limitations issues are very complex. If you have a question about whether your case is time barred, you must speak to a lawyer immediately.

Pennsylvania capital building
“Pennsylvania State Capitol” by Ad Meskens

Second, SB 770 would open a special civil window to provide victims, whose cases are out of time, with the opportunity to finally seek justice. If passed, SB 770 would open a one-time 2 year window. Basically, individuals whose cases were previously time barred would have 2 years to take legal action. Learn more about civil windows in civil child sex abuse lawsuits.

The proposed law also limits liability of agencies and business entities which employed the criminal perpetrators. In cases where a business entity like a school owed a duty to the victim, the entity could only face liability if there was gross negligence. Gross negligence is usually defined as conduct which falls well below the ordinary standard of negligence, or demonstrating a complete and utter lack of care.

SB 770 has been referred to the judiciary committee as of April 29, 2015.

Text of SB 770

Below is the text of the proposed amendments. Proposed additions are underlined and in red.

Section 1. Section 5533(b) of Title 42 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes:

(b) Infancy.–

[section (1) omitted]

(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 [12] 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.

[section (2)(ii), definitions, omitted]

(3) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a civil action that is permitted to be filed pursuant to paragraph (2) but would otherwise be barred on the effective date of this paragraph solely because the statute of limitations has expired is revived, and such a civil action may be commenced within two years of the addition of this paragraph. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to alter the applicable statute of limitations period of a civil action arising from childhood sexual abuse that is not time barred as of the effective date of this paragraph.

(4) 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 under paragraph (3) only if there is a finding of gross negligence on the part of the entity.

(5) If an individual or the individual’s legal representative has previously brought a civil action arising from childhood sexual abuse and that suit has been dismissed because it was filed beyond the statute of limitations that applied at that time, the individual or the individual’s legal representative may petition the court to reopen the action within the period provided in paragraph (3). The court may grant the petition if it determines that any of the following exists:

(i) The victim of the childhood abuse was under the age of 30 at the time the statute of limitations expired.

(ii) The existence of newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered before the prior statute of limitations expired.

(iii) Fraud, inexcusable neglect, misrepresentation or misconduct by an opposing party.

(iv) Any other extraordinary circumstances that the court believes are in the interest of justice.

Section 2. This act shall take effect immediately.

Related Articles:

  • Want to File a Sex Abuse-Assault Lawsuit in Pennsylvania? What You Need to Know (September 16th, 2014) Victims of sex abuse or assault who are considering filing lawsuits in Pennsylvania have more at stake than plaintiffs in other types of tort/injury lawsuits. That’s because of the very personal nature of the case. Sexual abuse and assault result in extreme mental and emotional trauma.
  • Punitive Damages in Pennsylvania Sex Abuse-Assault Lawsuits (September 10, 2014) Victims of sex abuse or sex assault in Pennsylvania may be entitled to financial compensation. That’s because Pennsylvania tort laws recognize the legal right to compensation in cases where an individual intentionally or negligently causes harm to another. The harm caused by sexual abuse and sexual assault is very grave.
  • Rights of Assault & Sexual Assault Victims in PA – A Brief Overview (March 2, 2014) Victims of physical assault and sexual assault, including child molestation and child sex abuse, may be able to seek justice in the civil courts by filing lawsuits against the wrongdoer, the criminal defendant. However, they may also be able to file suit against other parties whose negligent actions contributed to the assault.

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