New Jersey Senate Measure S477, which creates a two-year look-back period that revives claims of sexual abuse that would be barred under the statute of limitations, is now in effect. As of December 1, New Jersey has opened a two-year window in which victims of child sexual abuse may commence civil lawsuits, regardless of the victim’s age or when the alleged abuse occurred. Under this legislation, victims whose lawsuits would have been time-barred under the statute of limitations will now have a two-year period to file the lawsuits in New Jersey.
In addition to the look-back window, the law has extended the statute of limitations for claims for sexual abuse of a minor, allowing victims to bring suits until either their 55th birthday, or within seven years of their first realization that the abuse caused harm, whichever date is later. Before the new law, victims had to commence suit within two years of either the minor victim’s 18th birthday or the date the victim realized the abuse caused harm. Under the new law, adult victims, regardless of age, now also have seven years from the discovery of the abuse to file a lawsuit.
New Jersey’s law will not only revive time-barred claims against the actual perpetrator, but will also revive claims against any other person or institution the victim alleges is responsible, in whole or in part, for the abuse. In addition, since S477 amends New Jersey’s Charitable Immunity Act and creates a carve-out to the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, nonprofit organizations and public entities that were historically immune from suit could now face liability stemming from sexual abuse claims for negligent hiring, supervision or retention.
We expect hundreds of cases to be filed in New Jersey, potentially against religious institutions and other civic organizations and clubs whose members are minors. The revival window and the extended statutes of limitations may open the door for claims that occurred decades ago. Institutional defendants will be looking to their policies for coverage in place during those years.
We also expect the New Jersey Insurance Department, similar to New York’s Department of Financial Services, to take a very active role in monitoring how carriers handle the influx of these child abuse claims. Given the sensitivity of these claims from a coverage and public optics perspective, we recommend that carriers remain coordinated nationally to avoid any potential conflicting positions that could be exploited by claimants, the insureds, or any regulatory body.
Goldberg Segalla will continue to monitor other states that are likely to pass similar legislation, specifically Pennsylvania—currently debating the bill—as well as North Carolina and Kentucky. Goldberg Segalla is also rolling out educational webinars devoted to this topic, starting with “Emerging Issues: The New York Child Victims Act and the Impact of the ‘Window of Justice’ on Insurers” on December 10, 2019.
Goldberg Segalla has one of the largest coverage practices in the country and we have served as national coverage counsel on similarly sensitive claims. Our national practice is supported by various state coverage leaders—each charged with the task of assisting and partnering with our client community on state-specific coverage issues. For more information, please contact: