A statute of limitations is a legal mechanism put into place to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits or prosecutorial overreach by limiting the amount of time a plaintiff or prosecutor has to build a case either in criminal court or in civil court. Notably, the statute of limitations for civil litigation cases involving victims who were children when subjected to sexual abuse is limited to a short timeframe.
Oftentimes, there isn’t enough time for a victim to process the long-term trauma of the abuse, accept that it happened, speak out about what happened, and try to build a lawsuit based on what happened. It’s too much.
President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Benner Township) said, “I’ve gotten to the point where enough is enough. These poor individuals have suffered the most heinous crime you can imagine.”
Here and now, Corman acknowledged that the law needs to change, and that he would support House Bill 951, which would open up the statute of limitations to allow adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse to process lawsuits against their abusers and anyone else who helped facilitate the commission of these crimes.
For example, survivors were previously barred from suing the employers of the abuser — but that changed in light of a sex abuse scandal that came to light when victims came forward to implicate priests. Now, survivors can also sue the Catholic church for fostering an environment in which abuse is more likely.
Corman said, “If there’s enough vagueness [in the bill] at least to be argued, I’m prepared to let all the lawyers have their day, the judges to have their day, and most importantly victims of these terrible crimes to have their day.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, “Today’s vote brings these brave survivors the closest they have been to having their day in court. Now it’s time to deliver justice and closure for those who spoke up, relived their trauma, and bolstered the system for future victims.”
Originally, the plan to open the statute of limitations would have been put forth to the voters — but the bureaucracy failed to deliver in time for the primary election last year. That’s why many legislators have changed their mind to prefer the new law over the constitutional amendment.
Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker (R-Dallas) said, “But, if you believe as strongly as I do that abuse victims have been denied a fair remedy for far too long, then we are obligated to attempt every avenue to deliver a just result.”
In order for HB 951 to become law, the state Senate will have to pass it when legislators reconvene on April 27. How fast will it receive a vote — and how many Senators will support the bill’s passage? That’s what we’re waiting to find out.