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Maryland Lengthens the Statute of Limitations for Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Thanks to Delegate C.T. Wilson’s persistent effort, the Maryland General Assembly passed and Governor Larry Hogan signed into law House Bill 642 on April 4, 2017.  The new law provision extends the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse to sue offenders and the individuals, organizations and/or government entities who allowed the abuse to occur.

Maryland’s previous statute of limitations provided that child sex abuse victims only had to age 25 to sue (seven years from the date the victim reached the age of majority). The new law extends the statute of limitations to age 38. Although the law is a huge step forward, there are a couple of important things to note.

The Law Requires Gross Negligence to Sue Responsible Third Parties

The law treats claims against perpetrators of abuse differently from claims against organizations who enabled, fostered and/or failed to prevent the abuse—such as churches, schools, daycare centers, camps, pools, etc. Specifically, it provides that victims whose abuse occurred more than seven years after age of majority (mostly 25) can only sue third-parties for actions arising out of the sexual abuse if the victim can show (1) the person or governmental entity owed a duty of care to the victim; (2) the person or governmental entity employed or exercised some degree of responsibility or control over the alleged perpetrator; and (3) there is a finding of gross negligence on the part of the third party.[1] “Gross negligence” is defined as “an intentional failure to perform a manifest duty in reckless disregard of the consequences as affecting the life or property of another, and also implies a thoughtless disregard of the consequences without the exertion of any effort to avoid them.”[2] The law contains no such limitations for direct lawsuits against perpetrators.

The Law Does Not Help Victims Whose SOL Expired Before October 1, 2017

Another issue with the law is whether it is retroactive to victims whose suits were previously blocked by the old statute of limitations. The answer is “yes” and “no.” According to the wording of the provision, the law does not apply to any victim whose claim would have been barred (past the statute of limitations) prior to the effective date of October 1, 2017. In other words, the law says that it does not apply to any victim who turned 25 prior to October 1, 2017. But, Maryland’s highest court has held that the law extends the statute of limitations for anyone whose claim had not expired on the effective date. So, a victim who turns 25 on October 2, 2017 or anytime thereafter will have until he or she is 38 to bring suit.

The Law Makes it Easier to Sue Government Entities 

Where the defendant is a governmental entity, the Local Government Tort Claims Act applies and limits liability to $400,000 per claimant per incident and $800,000 per total claims arising out of the same occurrence.[3]  The Act also prevents the recovery of punitive damages against a governmental entity.[4]  While House Bill 642 does not alter these limits on damages, actions filed under the provisions of the bill will be exempt from other requirements of the Act to include the requirement that the victim give written notice, the requirement that the victim submit a written claim, and the requirement that a victim be denied a claim.

[1] Md. Cts. & Jud. Proceedings Code Ann. § 5-303.

[2] § 5-303(c)(1).

[3] Md. Cts. & Jud. Proceedings Code Ann. § 5-303.

[4] § 5-303(c)(1).

Contact Our Experienced Sexual Abuse Lawyers to See if you Have a Claim

Silverman|Thompson|Slutkin|White|LLC (STSW’s) Victim’s Rights Practice Group represent victims of sexual abuse in criminal and civil cases across the country. Led by victim-survivor Steve Kelly, the group specializes in working victims of sexual and other criminal trauma. If you or a loved one is the victim of sexual abuse, you have important rights in the criminal process that STSW’s victims’-rights attorneys can help you protect. You or your loved one may also have the right to seek a financial recovery against an array of individuals and entities that may be held liable for the perpetrator’s acts. Many of these rights are time-sensitive and it is imperative that you immediately seek competent legal representation. For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact us here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or call 1.800.385.2243. For more information on efforts to reform civil statutes of limitations, go here.

[1] MD HB0642.

[2] Doe v. Roe, 419 Md. 687 (2011).

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