A bill to eliminate the 30-year statute of limitations on civil cases involving the sexual abuse of children is back after similar bills failed to make it all the way through the legislative process.
This bill, submitted by Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, differs from past efforts in that it is prospective and would only impact future cases. Previous cases like that of the late -Dr. George Reardon, would not be affected.
Reardon practiced at St. Francis Hospital for years and is alleged to have sexually abused hundreds of children during that time. His case has been a driving factor in legislation proposed to eliminate the statute of limitations for sex abuse crimes. Jury selection for a handful of cases involving Reardon’s estate and St. Francis Hospital begins in early March.
Thirteen of Dr. Reardon’s victims lived in Bye’s district when she was a member of the House of Representatives. Only seven of them have been able to file lawsuits, while six were prohibited based on the statute of limitations.
On Wednesday Bye said that, while the bill won’t help those victims, it does protect future victims.
“What I’m saying is at least starting today, let’s put everyone on notice that there’s no statute of limitations in the case of child sexual abuse,” she said, adding that many of the organizations who were opposed to previous bills have put safeguards in place to ensure widespread abuse can no longer occur.
One of the opposing organizations has been the Catholic Church, who claimed the measure could bankrupt it.
According to Michael Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, the new bill takes a step in the right direction by being prospective.
However, he said the conference still has major concerns over the measure mainly that it only applies to the private and non-profit sector while leaving the state and municipalities protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. That includes teachers, coaches and boards of education, he said.
Hundreds of public sector employees have abused children and they are still protected under the new bill, Culhane said.
The bill also differs from earlier proposals in that victims no longer have to provide evidence of the abuse just to file the case, Bye said. While the requirements have varied, there were always evidentiary requirements to open a civil case after the statutes of limitations had expired, she said.
“The idea was to avoid spurious claims because if it’s a he said she said and it’s 40 years earlier it gets very difficult,” Bye said. The new bill dispenses with the requirements.
“It doesn’t have any caveats to it. This bill just flat-out says, going forwards there will be no statute of limitations in the cases of child sexual abuse. Those victims can make a claim forever,” she said, adding that the claimant would still have to prove their case in court.
Bye said removing the time limit to file civil cases involving sexual abuse is important because frequently people who were molested as children bury the memories. If they do remember, they’re sometimes afraid to come forward.
She said she has met with many victims who have told her the incidents from their childhoods had a lingering effect on their lives. Many are unable to have romantic relationships, others struggle to hold down jobs or battle depression, she said.
While Bye seemed disappointed a retroactive bill has not been passed, she said she will continue to push for her new bill, which she hopes will have less opposition.
“At least for this year let’s get something so it doesn’t happen to anyone else going forward,” she said
St. Francis Hospital did not return calls seeking comment on the new legislation.