Lawmakers Approve SOL Exception for Survivors of Sexual Abuse
In a major win for survivors of sexual abuse, a legislative panel voted overwhelmingly to relax the statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases.
If the bill goes on to pass the Maryland General Assembly, the church is likely to face a crush of new lawsuits, especially in light of the impending release of a grand jury report into sexual abuse and coverups in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The bill, called The Child Victims Act of 2023, would also abolish the statute of limitations for all future childhood sexual abuse claims. Abuse survivors often don’t come forward with claims for decades, so short statutes of limitations can make it difficult to hold abusers accountable in court.
“Delayed disclosure is the rule rather than the exception, therefore changing the legislation to reflect current trends in reporting enables more survivors to pursue justice,” said Mike McDonnell from the Survivors Networks of Those Abused by Priests. “By providing police, prosecutors, and the public with information about abusers and enablers, this aids in preventing further incidents.”
The SOL and the Discovery Rule
Procedural hurdles, like the statute of limitations, are very common “tort reform” measures. Insurance companies, large church groups, and their political allies press for such reforms to deny victims a day in court. But even in Maryland, which has a very harsh SOL law, a Baltimore sex abuse lawyer can still offer solutions for child sex abuse victims.
Maryland also has a broad delayed discovery rule. This rule essentially short-circuits the statute of limitations in child sex abuse matters.
Assume Fred was sexually abused in 2012. As discussed below, his brain blocked most of the traumatic memories, so he only remembered fragments. Over the next ten years, the fragments start coming together, but not enough to make a complete picture. In 2022, Fred sees a new therapist who helps him fully recover those memories.
Arguably, the two-year SOL countdown didn’t start until 2022, which is when Fred had complete knowledge of his injury, and he connected that injury to a tortfeasor’s (negligent actor’s) wrongful conduct.
However, an insurance company lawyer would argue that the countdown started much sooner when Fred began piecing together fragments.
An SOL suspension eliminates this complexity and makes it easier for a Baltimore sex abuse lawyer to file a claim that will make it past the procedural motion phase.
Why Child Victims Do Not Come Forward
Delay is hard on everyone. It is hard for victims/plaintiffs to prove old cases, and it is hard for insurance companies to defend them. That is one reason SOL laws exist. But sexual abuse cases are different. Procrastination does not cause delay. Instead, delay is par for the course.
Many child sex abuse victims do not think anyone will believe them, so they do not risk embarrassment by immediately coming forward. That is especially true if the abuser was a priest or someone the community, and more importantly, the child’s family holds in high esteem.
On a related note, many child sex abuse victims fear retaliation, particularly if, as is often the case, the abuser made such threats.
Then, the rationalization begins. Many child sex abuse victims know what happened was wrong, but they do not know it was illegal. They often transfer those feelings to their abusers and assume they did not know their conduct was illegal either.
As a result of all this, the blocking process begins. To protect itself from injury, the brain usually blocks traumatic memories. Many victims suffer through the symptoms of abuse for years before they know what caused those symptoms. Then, it takes a lot more therapy to draw out concrete memories and truly recall what happened.
The brain does not have a “delete” key. Instead, it retains all memories, traumatic and otherwise. Sometimes, it is simply impossible to access those memories, which is why a good therapist is so important.
Our Baltimore sex abuse lawyers often connect victims with such therapists who, in most cases, charge nothing upfront for their professional services.
Contact a Compassionate, Baltimore-Area Sex Abuse Survivor Lawyer
Sex abuse survivors are entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced sexual abuse lawyer in Baltimore, Maryland, contact The Yost Legal Group at any time: 1-800-967-8529.