Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act Thursday morning, giving childhood victims of sex abuse a limited opportunity to sue for damages in cases where those victims previously would have been denied by the state’s statute of limitations.
The governor’s signature at a ceremony in Manhattan cleared the way for potentially thousands of lawsuits to be filed in state courts.
"This is an emotional day for all of us," said Cuomo, who signed the bill inside the newsroom of the New York Daily News.
The governor thanked "courageous victims who endured great pain" and sacrificed their personal privacy in pushing for passage of the legislation. He also apologized for how long it took for New York to acknowledge what had happened to childhood victims of sex abuse.
The Child Victims Act passed the Senate and the Assembly on Jan. 28, some 13 years after it was first introduced. It extends the statute of limitations for prosecuting child molesters and suspends it altogether for one year in civil cases.
The one-year “look back” window to file lawsuits will open six months from now.
Prior to the Child Victims Act, childhood victims had until their 23rd birthday to sue an abuser or an institution that employed an abuser. It was considered among the most restrictive statutes of limitations in the nation for sex abuse cases.
Advocates for lengthening the statute argued that childhood victims of sex abuse were effectively cut off from seeking any civil redress through the state court system because they struggle to come to grips with the abuse and typically don’t report what happened until decades later.
The age by which lawsuits must be filed changes to 55 under the Child Victims Act.