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Law will end time limit on Maryland child sex abuse lawsuits

Apr 11, 2023, 1:37 PM

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore signs a bill to end the state's statute of limitations for when lawsuits ca...

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore signs a bill to end the state's statute of limitations for when lawsuits can be filed against institutions for child sexual abuse during a ceremony on Tuesday, April 11, 2023, in Annapolis, Md. Senate President Bill Ferguson is seated left, and House Speaker Adrienne Jones is seated right. Standing from right are Del. Luke Clippinger, Sen. Will Smith and Del. C.T. Wilson, the bill's House sponsor who is standing behind the governor. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Brian Witte)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Gov. Wes Moore signed legislation on Tuesday to end Maryland’s statute of limitations for when civil lawsuits for child sexual abuse can be filed against institutions.

The bill signing comes less than a week after the state’s attorney general released a report that documented the scope of abuse spanning 80 years and accused church leaders of decades of coverups.

Under current law, people in Maryland who say they were sexually abused as children can’t sue after they reach the age of 38.

“There is no statute of limitations on the hurt that endures for decades after someone is assaulted,” Moore, a Democrat, said. “There is no statute of limitations on the trauma that harms so many still to this day, and this law reflects that exact truth.”

The Maryland General Assembly passed the bill last week, hours after Attorney General Anthony Brown released a long-awaited report of nearly 500 pages with details about more than 150 Catholic priests and others associated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore abusing over 600 children.

State investigators began their work in 2019. They reviewed over 100,000 pages of documents dating back to the 1940s and interviewed hundreds of victims and witnesses.

The measure to end the statute of limitations has been sponsored for several years in Maryland by Del. C.T. Wilson, a Democrat who has testified about being abused in his youth.

“I thank all the survivors that came up year after year and told their stories,” Wilson said.

David Lorenz, the Maryland leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests who attended the ceremony, said he was “thrilled for my fellow survivors.”

“Maryland has stopped saying: ‘Church, tell us what to do,’ and said: ‘People, what do we do?’ We’re not beholden to the church anymore, and we should never have been,” Lorenz said.

Twenty-four states have approved revival periods known as “lookback windows,” which are limited time frames during which accusers can sue, regardless of how long ago the alleged abuse occurred. Maryland’s law creates a permanent window with no time limit.

Marci Hamilton, the founder and CEO of Child USA, a think tank that advocates for better laws to protect children, said she testified to change the law in Maryland 20 years ago.

“This has been an extremely long haul,” Hamilton said, crediting Wilson and victims for persevering. “It was a heavy lift, but they did it.”

The Maryland law, which takes effect Oct. 1, is the only one in the nation that includes some caps for damages, Hamilton said.

For private entities, under the bill, damages are capped at $1.5 million for non-economic damages like pain and suffering, but there isn’t a cap for damages relating to costs for services like therapy. For public entities like school boards and local governments, damages are capped at $890,000.

“This is the first window ever to have caps,” Hamilton said. “We’ve resisted them, but these caps are fair enough.”

The Maryland Catholic Conference, which represents the three dioceses serving Maryland, contended in testimony that the bill is unconstitutional, because of the disparity in monetary judgements.

“The concerns we raised during the legislative session remain, including questions about constitutionality and the disparate treatment between public and private organizations in Maryland,” the conference said in a statement Tuesday.

The Baltimore archdiocese says it has paid more than $13.2 million for care and compensation for 301 abuse victims since the 1980s, including $6.8 million toward 105 voluntary settlements.

In anticipation that the law will be challenged in court, the measure includes a provision that would put lawsuits on hold until the Supreme Court of Maryland can decide on the law’s constitutionality.

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Law will end time limit on Maryland child sex abuse lawsuits