February 8, 2023

Volume XIII, Number 39

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February 06, 2023

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New York Adult Survivors Act

New York’s Adult Survivors Act[1] (“ASA” or “the Act”) (S.66A/A.648A) became effective on November 24, 2022. The Act provides a one-year lookback window for people to seek civil remedies for sexual abuse they experienced after they turned 18, regardless of what year the abuse occurred. This law adds critical energy to the ongoing momentum of the #MeToo movement, allowing survivors to file suit against both their abusers and the institutions that enabled them. 

The one-year lookback window lasts until November 23, 2023, so as of today, survivors have just over ten months to take advantage of the law. The following guide provides context and recommendations for understanding and using New York’s Adult Survivors Act.

What does the ASA do?

The ASA creates a one-year lookback window for sexual assault survivors to pursue civil claims in court for abuse that may have occurred years earlier, as long as they were over 18 at the time. Previously, a person who experienced sexual abuse only had a few years to file a lawsuit in New York before their claim would be time-barred. This meant that survivors had little time in which to come to terms with the abuse they experienced, find an attorney, prepare a case, and file an action. For those who missed that small window, the ASA reopens the courthouse doors. So until November 23, 2023, whether you experienced abuse in 2015, 2000, or 1985, you can file a claim in court and seek recovery for what happened to you.

What does the law cover?

Sexual offenses covered by the ASA span a wide range of behaviors, including but not limited to forcible touching, rape, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and other forms of sexual abuse. Not every sexual offense is covered under the ASA,[2] and an attorney can help assess whether your claim falls within its provisions.

Who can you sue?

Another powerful provision of the law is who it allows to be named as a defendant. Survivors are not limited to suing their abusers—they can also hold accountable the institutions that insulated those abusers from justice. These institutions can include entities that had responsibility to keep the survivor safe and to control the actions of the abuser. Claims against the institutions can involve both intentional and negligent acts. If your abuser was part of a larger organization that contributed to or failed to prevent, notice, or stop the abuse, the ASA empowers you to go after that organization.

This provision comes directly from New York’s 2019 Child Victims Act (“CVA”).[3] Over 10,000 people have used the CVA to sue institutions that had a role to play in their abuse, including churches, hospitals, overnight and day camps, and schools. For example, a large number of CVA cases name the Roman Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America as institutional defendants. The ASA provides a similar recourse to justice: oftentimes, survivors are subject to abuse by people who hold power over them. For minors, these people could be coaches, religious leaders, teachers, mentors, or other caregivers. For people over 18, those in power may be employers, professors, or community leaders. The ASA enables adult survivors to sue the institutions that gave their abusers power and protected those abusers from answering for their actions.

The institutional defendant provision of the ASA opens significantly larger opportunities for recovery, as institutions oftentimes have deeper pockets than individual abusers. Examples of institutions that could face liability under the ASA include employers, colleges and universities, social organizations such as fraternities and sororities, medical practices, and facilities that house people with disabilities. Any entity that knew about or should have known about and stopped the abuse could be on the hook.

Who is it for?

The ASA opens the courts to people who were over the age of 18 when they experienced sexual abuse but are otherwise unable to file due to missing the statute of limitations. You can use the ASA even if you have previously tried to file but had your suit dismissed as untimely.[4]

It is important to note that if you have resolved or released your claims through a settlement process, you may not file under the ASA. For example, the nearly 150 women who received payment from a settlement with Columbia University Irving Medical Center and New York Presbyterian Hospital based on sexual abuse by Dr. Robert Hadden cannot use the ASA to file new suits as their claims have been fully resolved.

Why do we need this?

The Adult Survivors Act is a game-changer for people who were previously unable to file claims for sexual abuse due to a short statute of limitations. In 2019, New York extended the statute of limitations for certain civil lawsuits related to sex crimes from five to 20 years. But that law did not apply retroactively, so survivors who experienced abuse just a few years prior were still barred from seeking justice.

The ASA honors the lived reality of sexual abuse. Like the CVA before it, the ASA recognizes sexual abuse can take years to process, and those years often extend far beyond the short filing windows New York historically placed on these types of claims.

Survivors have many reasons for waiting to come forward with claims of sexual abuse. Some face retaliation by their abusers, some fear the risk of community backlash, and others lack the resources to seek legal representation. Finally, “[t]rauma takes time,” as New York State Senator and ASA champion Brad Hoylman said when promoting the then-bill. Many sexual assault and sexual abuse survivors need years to process what they endured. This can be particularly true when an abuser uses power, manipulation, or threats to coerce submission to sexual contact, a common tactic of notorious abusers Harvey WeinsteinKevin Spacey, and Dr. Robert Hadden. Understanding the event as sexual abuse, reconciling yourself with your experience, and deciding how to move forward can take decades. The ASA is an effort to respect this process and empower survivors to hold their abusers accountable.  

Why would I file a lawsuit about what happened to me?

For many people, surviving sexual abuse is not something that can be “fixed” by any kind of legal action. But the remedies available through civil suits can serve as a proxy for some measure of justice, and that proxy can enable survivors to move forward.

Successful ASA plaintiffs can recover economic, compensatory, and punitive damages from both the individual abuser and the institution. Many survivors suffer financial loss in addition to the mental, emotional, and physical harm of the abuse itself. If your boss sexually harasses you and then terminates you when you protest, you may find yourself without an income. If a classmate assaults you, you may forfeit tuition money after deciding to leave campus for your safety. Civil courts can make you financially whole and further compensate you for the pain of the experience and the efforts you must make to heal. Courts can also provide other remedies, requiring the people who perpetrated or allowed abuse to do or stop certain behaviors, thereby protecting other potential future targets of abuse and assault.

How do I use the ASA?

The first thing you should do is consult an attorney. These cases can be complicated, and plaintiffs still maintain the burden of proof, so you want the expertise of an experienced lawyer. There are several firms that regularly bring these kinds of actions, and many will provide you with a free consultation. If you decide to move forward with your case after a consultation, your attorney will work with you to determine the best strategy. This strategy may include going to court, or it may involve seeking a resolution that works for you outside of court.

As you go through the process of finding an attorney, please know that you deserve counsel that is compassionate, knowledgeable, and focused on your needs and interests as a client. This is about what happened to you, and your attorney is there to guide you. You should feel heard, understood, and respected. 

When do I need to file?

You must file your claim by November 23, 2023.

While the ASA is a powerful effort by New York to support the rights of sexual abuse survivors, it is time-limited. November 23, 2023 is the cutoff date for filing a claim, but if you are interested in seeking recovery under the Act, you should take action now. It may take time to find the right attorney for you, and your lawyer will need additional time to put together your case. If you and your lawyer decide to pursue a resolution without going to court, that process could take even longer.

Ten months sounds like a long time, but in the legal world, it can move very quickly. Start considering whether you want to take advantage of the ASA and reach out to an attorney as soon as possible.

What happens after I file?

This will come down to conversations you have with your attorney. Filing is the first major step in the process. Following that process through might include discovery, more court filings, and hearings before a judge or a jury.

What else should I consider?

Take care of yourself as you think about your next steps. Reach out to trusted loved ones and mental health professionals. It is critical that you ground yourself in what is best for you.


FOOTNOTES

[1] New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed the ASA into law on May 24, 2022. The ASA passed the New York Assembly by a majority vote of 140 in favor to 3 against after receiving unanimous support in the state Senate one month prior.

[2] Article 130 of the New York Penal Law lists offenses covered under the ASA.

[3] The CVA came into effect in 2019, providing a two-year lookback window for people who experienced abuse as minors. The CVA amends N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 208 (2019) and allows victims to initiate civil action against their abusers and enabling institutions. As to victims where civil actions were barred before the CVA took effect, N.Y. C.P.L.R. 214-g (2020) creates a lookback period to file a claim. Since 2019, over 10,000 people have filed lawsuits in New York against abusers and the institutions that protected them.

[4] The ASA can revive your claim only if it was dismissed for failure to file by the statutory deadline. If your claim was dismissed for other reasons, this law cannot fix that.

Katz Banks Kumin LLP Copyright © National Law Review, Volume XIII, Number 21
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About this Author

Kelsey Woodford Civil Rights Lawyer Katz Banks Kumin
Associate

Kelsey Woodford, an Associate with Katz Banks Kumin, joined the firm in August 2022.

Before joining the firm, Ms. Woodford served as a Staff Attorney at Disability Rights DC advocating for the civil and human rights of District residents with disabilities through systemic litigation, policy work, and individual representation. Prior to her role with Disability Rights DC, Ms. Woodford acted as a Law Clerk to the Honorable Abdul K. Kallon in the Northern District of Alabama.

Ms. Woodford received her J.D. from Stanford...

202-299-1140
Jolena Jeffrey DC Employment Lawyer Employee Rights Katz Banks Kumin LLP
Associate

Jolena Jeffrey joined Katz, Marshall, & Banks, LLP as an Associate in August 2019.

Ms. Jeffrey received her J.D. from American University Washington College of Law in 2016. While in law school she was the executive editor of the labor and employment law brief. She also worked as a student attorney in the Civil Advocacy Clinic, assisting low income persons with employment matters, including conducting a hearing before the Office of Administrative hearings to pursue her client’s unpaid employment benefits

202-299-1140
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