PLATTSBURGH — With the deadline to file lawsuits under New York’s Child Victims Act expiring last Saturday, attorneys representing some of the survivors of sexual abuse say victims now have fewer paths for their stories to be heard in court.
The Child Victims Act temporarily suspended the state’s time limit on civil lawsuits filed for sexual abuse claims when it was signed into law in 2019. Its deadline was extended by a year in August 2020, largely because of the pandemic.
‘CAME TO OUR DOORSTEP’
Local lawsuits in the North Country have been filed against schools, boy scout chapters, churches, county foster care programs and more.
Ronald Kim, a Saratoga Springs attorney of the Law Office of Ronald J. Kim, PC, said his firm is considered a “small potatoes outfit.” Even still, he represents clients from across the state in 92 lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act, with victims ranging in their mid-40s to 80s.
“I didn’t advertise for those. I didn’t seek them or do a TV commercial or anything like that,” Kim said of his cases. “They sort of just came to our doorstep.”
Kim’s cases join the more than 9,000 lawsuits filed under the law since 2019, according to The Associated Press.
Kim, who has practiced law since 1989, said he’s had experience with sexual misconduct suits in the past, with one of his first cases out of law school involving sexual harassment allegations. But he said most of those cases were related to workplace misconduct and largely included women as plaintiffs.
KNEW IT WAS OUT THERE
He said his new cases are different.
“These are almost exclusively men,” Kim said of his clients who filed under the Child Victims Act.
“I knew it was out there. I just didn’t know how much until people started coming forward.”
In Essex County, one of Kim’s clients filed a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America. According to the complaint, the plaintiff, who is identified only as T.P., alleges he was sexually abused by two scout masters as a minor between 1979 and 1983.
Before the passage of the Child Victims Act, T.P.’s claims were time-barred by the time he turned 22, the lawsuit said.
“To some of them, they’ve lived with this for so long,” Kim said of his clients.
“Some of them have been able to move pretty productively with their lives but for a lot of them, it’s clearly been an issue throughout their lives.”
NO VIABLE SUIT
Kim said he’s noticed relief among some of his clients after filing lawsuits, but he said other survivors won’t get the chance now that the deadline to file under the Child Victims Act has passed.
“There are people with these experiences who now have no recourse. There’s just no viable suit out there for them,” Kim said, “because you either can’t find the people or they weren’t attached to some institution.”
Cynthia LaFave, of LaFave, Wein & Frament, PLLC, an Albany-area firm, also said survivors have limited legal options and is worried for the rest who didn’t get a chance to file before the deadline.
“I think there’s a lot of people out there who still don’t know that there was a window of time [to file,]” she said. “It’s bittersweet to see the end come because I know we have helped and will help so many people, but I know there are many more who we haven’t reached.”
CVA WAS ‘INCREDIBLY GOOD THING’
LaFave, who in partnership with a Minnesota-based firm represents 471 clients under the Child Victims Act, said she now almost exclusively handles cases with survivors since the law was passed in 2019.
She said she has filed lawsuits against schools, Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist churches, homes for children and various state agencies.
In the last few months, LaFave said her firm has been concentrating on getting as many suits filed as the deadline approached and said she expects those suits to start advancing now that the deadline has passed.
“Now that they’re all sued, we’re certainly going to be moving 100% into discovery,” she said. “That will certainly move these cases forward.”
As an attorney who has represented survivors of sexual abuse since the ‘80s, LaFave said the Child Victims Act provided a chance to hold abusers accountable for harm that could be decades’ old.
“The CVA was an incredibly good thing for our society. I think it is the voice for so many people who have been sexually abused,” she said. “[Survivors] understand what they are doing is protecting children in the future and that, in itself, is a method of healing for them.”
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