In the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the “look-back window” opened by the New York Child Victims Act, which allows survivors of childhood sex abuse to bring a civil action within a designated period of time, regardless of when the abuse occurred, has been extended by one year to August 14, 2021.
As discussed in our March 31 and April 9, 2020 alerts, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in several executive and administrative orders suspending statutes of limitations in all legal matters, and curtailing the receipt of filed papers by county clerks in New York State. This has prohibited victims from filing lawsuits recently revived by the New York Child Victims Act’s look-back window, effectively narrowing the time period in which victims’ ability to commence suit over claims that would otherwise be barred by the relevant statute of limitations.
While the proposal for an extension of the look-back period did pre-date the ongoing pandemic, calls for its extension were renewed when the aforementioned orders came into effect. Notwithstanding, lawmakers elected not to include these measures in the state budget, which, in New York, is the premier legislative package of the year. It was presumably the legislature’s failure to act that prompted Governor Andrew Cuomo to announce at a daily press briefing, something that has become the new norm during the course of the pandemic, that he would be extending the look-back period to mid-January. This was memorialized in Executive Order No. 202.29.
Questions then arose as to Cuomo’s authority to unilaterally extend the look-back window in light of the ongoing pandemic, causing some to speculate as to whether the governor’s action was instead a means to push legislative action. If so, it was successful, since on May 27, 2020, S.7082 was passed by the New York State Senate in a 60-2 vote, and in the Assembly in a 134 to 134-10 vote. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.
As the various administrative orders in New York are lifted, and the New York courts open back up in the midst of the pandemic, insurers must remain diligent in their handling of claims arising from the Child Victims Act, so as to ensure its insured’s interests are protected, and all defenses to coverage are preserved.
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