Md. Lawmakers Pass Bill to Repeal Time Limit on Child Sex Abuse Claims

By Insurance Journal staff | April 11, 2023

Maryland lawmakers have passed a bill to end the state’s statute limiting when civil lawsuits over child sex abuse can be filed against public and private entities.

Under the Child Victims Act of 2023, actions for damages arising out of alleged incidents of sexual abuse against minors may be filed at any time. Currently, Marylanders who say they were sexually abused as children can’t sue after they reach the age of 38.

The bill would go into effect October 1, 2023 and retroactively revive any action that was barred by the prior statutory period of limitations. It would not allow suits on behalf of alleged child sex abuse victims who are deceased.

The measure now goes to Gov. Wes Moore, who has said he will sign it.

Final agreement came just days after Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown released his agency’s report documenting a long history of widespread child sex abuse and systemic cover-up by clergy and others associated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The redacted Report on Child Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore was the result of a four-year investigation into 60 years of allegations of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy and of the cover-up of that abuse by the leadership of the Catholic Church.

That report recommended that Maryland eliminate the statute of limitations. The Catholic Church opposed the measure in part because it sets different caps on damages for private and public institutions. Several Catholic dioceses have been hurt financially by similar laws in other states that have allowed abuse claims that were previously barred.

Maryland has no cap on economic damages or punitive damages, except the state has immunity for punitive damages. However, Maryland does have caps on noneconomic damages. Under the child victims act, the total amount of noneconomic damages that may be awarded to a single claimant in an action against a single private party defendant (including clergy) for injuries arising from an incident or occurrence that would have been barred by a time limitation before October 1, 2023, may not exceed $1.5 million.

If the sexual abuse claim involves a local government, a county board of education, the state, or the state’s units, the liability may not exceed $890,000 to a single claimant for injuries arising from an incident or occurrence. The bill increases the minimum comprehensive liability coverage county boards of education must carry to reflect the $890,000 liability limit with respect to sexual abuse claims. A county board of education may raise the defense of sovereign immunity to any amount above the limit of its insurance policy.

According to the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Child USAdvocacy, 15 states have lifted statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse. The number of new cases filed in other states during limited revival of claims “windows” has varied. According to Child USA, approximately 11,000 cases were filed in New York during the state’s two-year window for revival of child sexual abuse claims and approximately 1,200 cases were filed under New Jersey’s two-year revival window.

A legislative analysis of the Maryland bill anticipates it will have an operational impact on the courts and general fund expenditures for the judiciary may increase. Also, the treasurer and attorney general may need to increase staffing to handle any increase in claims.

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