The Assembly approved a bill lifting the civil statute of limitations on certain sexual offenses by a 71-0-5 vote Monday evening. It now heads to Gov. Murphy to sign.
The measure was on the board list to take up for the 1 p.m. Assembly voting session and expected to pass early on in that session. However, it ended up among the final bills to be heard, with the vote coming at 6:45 p.m., as issues came up over the bill’s tort claims language regarding public institutions.
Both the Senate and Assembly may still consider amendments regarding impact on public entity immunity laws. But time ran out Monday to make such tweak.
In its current form, A-3648 would extend the statute of limitations from two years to seven years for adult victims of sexual assault and expand the categories of defendants liable in such actions.
It also creates a limited window so child victims from the past are not shut out of filing suit against their abusers.
The Senate approved S-477, the companion bill championed by Sen. Joseph Vitale (D., Middlesex), on March 14 by a 32-1 vote.
After nearly 20 years of trying to get the bill through the Legislature but never quite reaching the finish line, the bill’s passage Monday marked a significant milestone, say victims’ advocates.
Once signed by Gov. Murphy, A-3648/S-477 would go into effect on Dec. 1, 2019.
Among those in attendance in the Assembly gallery on Monday were Tom McCutcheon, 59, of Brielle, Monmouth County, who claims he was abused at the DelBarton School in Morris Township—a private school run by the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey—by a priest there when he was 15. He said the bill, once signed into law, would benefit his case.
“I was abused on Jan. 1, 1976, and I’ve never forgotten the abuse. Not for a second,” McCutcheon said before the Assembly voted.
McCutcheon said he didn’t make the connection between the abuse and the damages it caused him until some 40 years later, on March 11, 2015, when he was 55.
“The change in the legislation changes the legal approach, and it makes it such that the defense can no longer argue to block me based on a statute,” he said. “They have been trying to do so. In this case, the statute will be lifted and allow me to walk through, and hopefully, be able to progress the way I have wanted to all along, which is to expose what has happened and hold them [the Catholic Church] accountable.
“I’m delighted it is progressing in the direction of the governor’s desk,” McCutcheon said. “I look forward to seeing him sign it.”
The bill, once enacted, provides the following:
- A two-year window from enactment for the filing of any civil case alleging adult or minor sexual abuse that occurred in the past;
- That anyone under 18 who has been sexually abused in the past be able to bring a cause of action within the next two years;
- That those who were sexually abused in the past as minors and who miss the two-year filing window be able to bring their cause of action until age 55;
- That those 55 and older who allege delays in connecting past abuse to damages have an opportunity to seek justice through the courts—a period of seven years from the point they made that connection.
Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano (D-Union), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), and Miley Jasey (D-Essex), primary sponsors of A-3648, issued a joint statement just after 7:30 p.m.
“The current statute of limitations cannot be justified given the horror experienced by victims of sexual assault and rape,” they said in the statement. “A two year statute of limitations for civil action is clearly not enough.
They added, “Many survivors need the time to find the strength to confront their abusers and get the justice they need and deserve. We must recognize the incredible stress, turmoil and pressure victims feel when dealing with their abuse and adjust the law accordingly to allow enough time for them to begin to heal.”
New Jersey’s bill is something of a hybrid between laws in Delaware and Connecticut. Delaware’s legislation provided a two-year window, but it did not address victims of child sexual abuse who missed the filing window. Connecticut, after a scandal in 2002, changed its statute of limitations to allow victims of child sexual abuse to file claims until age 48.