On May 13, 2019, New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy signed bill S.447, which will extend in various ways the statute of limitations for civil actions alleging sexual abuse. The new law is effective on December 1, 2019.
Previously, New Jersey allowed child victims of sexual abuse only two years from the date of their eighteenth birthday to bring a sexual abuse claim. Now, children who were victims of sexual abuse may bring a claim until the age of 55, or seven years from the date that they become aware of the sexual abuse, whichever is later. The law will also allow for a two-year window for victims who were barred by the old statute of limitation to bring forth sexual abuse claims.
It is anticipated that provision “re-opening” the statute of limitations on claims which were previously barred will lead to an influx in litigation. Those victims who were subject to abuse and barred from filing suit under the prior statute of limitations will have until December 1, 2021 to file a Summons and Complaint.
In addition, the law will permit the filing of sexual abuse claims against organizations that were once immune from suit by amending the Charitable Immunity Act N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 to expose nonprofit organizations to retroactive liability for willful, wanton or grossly negligent acts resulting in sex abuse.
Public entities will also be affected by the change in statute of limitations as they will no longer be immune to claims of sexual abuse, rather they will be held liable as if they were private organizations.
Although the new law will bring plenty of changes, it also brings limitations. Specifically, the law will not allow child sex abuse lawsuits to be brought as class action, or to be settled privately as a class, forcing victims to bring independent lawsuits.
In 2019, 19 States and the District of Columbia have made or are making changes to their respective statutes of limitations as they apply to child sexual abuse, with over half of them extending the statute of limitations regarding civil claims.