The Child Victims Act goes into effect Wednesday and could open the door to a slew of lawsuits statewide.
The legislation was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Feb. 14, after the law was held up in the state Legislature for years. It creates a one-year window of opportunity for victims of child sexual abuse to make a claim against their abuser, no matter when the offenses were committed.
After the one-year window, which will expire Aug. 13, 2020, victims will have until they reach age 55 to file a civil claim for new cases, and until age 28 for criminal cases, according to New Baltimore attorney and activist Gary Greenberg, who championed the law for many years.
Greenberg was a victim of child sexual abuse when he was 7 years old.
The Child Victims Act applies to victims whose abuse occurred when they were 18 years old or younger, Greenberg said.
With the law going into effect Wednesday, Greenberg predicted many child sexual abuse cases will come to light.
“I think there will be a few thousand lawsuits filed across the state. It’s a big day and a lot of victims will be filing their cases and seeking long overdue justice,” Greenberg said Monday.
The bill was held up in the state Legislature for years, but was passed earlier this year. Cuomo signed the bill into law in February.
“This bill brings justice to people who were abused, and rights the wrongs that went unacknowledged and unpunished for too long,” Cuomo said at the time. ”By signing this bill, we are saying nobody is above the law, that the cloak of authority is not impenetrable and that if you violate the law, we will find out and you will be punished and justice will be done.”
Now that the law is taking effect, opening the one-year window for sexual abuse survivors to file civil claims regardless of when they occurred, Greenberg said the majority of cases will likely be against large institutions, rather than against individuals.
“I think the majority of cases will be against places like the church, hospitals, Boy Scouts, public schools, orthodox Jewish organizations,” Greenberg said. “There will be individual cases, but for a lot of the individual cases without an institution involved, the lawyers are unfortunately not taking those cases because they are more time-consuming and a lot of times the predator doesn’t have anything so it is hard to sue someone who doesn’t have any means. Most of the cases will probably be against large organizations.”
That is the reason Greenberg is trying to establish a fund for victims whose cases won’t make it to court — and there could be a lot of them, he said.
“About 90% of the cases filed Wednesday and beyond will be institutional cases and the actual figures show those cases are about 5 to 10% of the actual cases of abuse that have taken place,” Greenberg said. “A lot of victims will not get justice Wednesday and those are the ones I will continue to fight for to make sure they get their day in court.”
Greenberg said he hopes the state will pass legislation establishing a victims’ fund, and his own nonprofit is working to set one up as well, which could help victims whose cases don’t go to court with expenses like medical assistance, therapy and the like.
“My intention was always that every victim gets their day and I will continue to fight for that,” Greenberg said.
Columbia County District Attorney Paul Cjazka said it in unclear how many cases might be filed in local courts.
“I have not heard anything and frankly it is difficult to predict,” Cjazka said. “I can imagine there might be a number of cases or there might be no cases at all. Any criminal cases we get are handled in the normal course. These are civil lawsuits so our office might not be involved at all.”