Attorneys prepare to file hundreds of child sex abuse cases as 'lookback window' opens

Survivors of clergy sex abuse demonstrate at the Vatican in February. AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino.

Survivors of clergy sex abuse demonstrate at the Vatican in February. AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino.

By David Brand

Thousands of victims of child sex abuse will be able to sue their abusers and the organizations or institutions that abetted the abuse — no matter when it occurred — when a one-year lookback window opens across the state Wednesday. 

The window, a key component of the Child Victims Act, waives New York’s statutes of limitations that have prevented victims from seeking justice in the years since the abuse occurred. The lookback window applies only to civil cases.

Since Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law in January, attorneys and law firms have fielded hundreds of inquiries from victims of sexual abuse across the state. 

Attorney Jeff Anderson said his office is representing 66 plaintiffs who say they were abused by priests from the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens.

“We’re getting a huge response from survivors across the state because they have been shut out for so long,” Anderson said. 

He said he expects more people to come forward as they learn about the window and understand that they can remain anonymous. The majority of plaintiffs he represents plan to file complaints as John and Jane Does, he said.

Anderson said the survivors of sexual abuse who sue their abusers are also helping the community by identifying offenders.

“They’re beginning their own journey for recovery and they’re doing something that exposes offenders who have either been in community or still might be,” Anderson said.

After the one-year window closes, the statute of limitations for civil cases will last until the victim is 55. 

Weitz & Luxenberg, another lawfirm that specializes in cases of child sex abuse victims, plans to announce that it will file more than 400 civil cases on behalf of victims in New York City, including several in Queens. The law firm will hold a press conference in Manhattan Tuesday morning.

Large institutions like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America are expected to face hundreds of lawsuits from survivors of sex abuse by priests, clergy and scout leaders. 

The new law also extends the statue of limitations for criminal child sex abuse cases until the victim turns age 28. It was previously age 23. Advocates say the extension is crucial for victims who needed more time to feel comfortable coming forward with their traumatic experiences.

“The Child Victims Act is critical because now people know about this new legal pathway so hopefully more survivors will come forward and find closure they didn’t think they could,” attorney Michelle Simpson-Tuegel told the Eagle in March. Simpson-Tuegel has represented dozens of survivors of clergy sexual abuse, as well as survivors of U.S.A. Gymnastics physician Larry Nasser.