The Child Victims Act (CVA), which was enacted last year, is widely lauded for opening up the time frame for victims of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits over claims that were previously barred from court due to the statute of limitations.
Amid the pandemic that has nearly clogged the wheel of justice, state lawmakers are yet to decide on extending a one-year legal window that allowed survivors of child sex abuse to sue over decades-old allegations.
The legal window is set to close in August, but New York's court system is no longer accepting CVA lawsuits. Since the state's court system has postponed all non-essential services and the CVA lawsuits were not listed as essential under an order from Lawrence Marks, the state's chief administrative judge, this has effectively placed a hold on new litigation under the act.
It should be noted that an executive order from Cuomo last month paused the state's statute of limitations, tolling "any specific time limit for the commencement, filing, or service of any legal action, notice, motion, or other process or proceeding."
At a press conference, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the legislative session was effectively over. He then passed the decision up to the Legislature. When the Legislature had the chance to lengthen the look-back window in the state budget review, they took a pass.
According to State Senator Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, the state Senate had raised the CVA extension in budget negotiations and that it was discussed. However, he said the extension was rejected at some point.
Hoylman said some people believe the order would apply to the one-year legal window. But he argued that the executive order was not written with the CVA in mind and that even if the order does apply, it could become a legal question that defendants try to use to their advantage in court.
Nonetheless, the Manhattan Democrat agreed that victims deserve more time to file their lawsuits. Cases like these are accessible by the general public on https://newyork.staterecords.org/
Although normal business at the capitol has stopped, legislative leaders intend to continue their work in some fashion. An extension from legislators will be appreciated by law firms that have taken on clients with CVA litigations.
For the Marsh Law Firm, which represents about 700 people with potential CVA claims, of which less than a third have sued, the closing window is especially frustrating. This is because a long stay on CVA cases in New York City was lifted in February, just before the crisis struck.
James Marsh, a partner at the firm, said the firm believes that Cuomo's tolling of statutes of limitations has not been favorable for CVA plaintiffs. Even with lawyer advertising and press coverage of the Act, many potential plaintiffs do not know about the law. Furthermore, the pandemic has been a particularly hard time for victims and has caused them to retreat internally rather than come forward with their stories.
In the meantime, Marsh is worried about the mounting health risks for the firm's CVA clients who are senior citizens. One client is now deceased and another, who has stage-four cancer, may not live long enough to see justice served.