Bill Would Give Victims of Childhood Sex Abuse More Time to File Civil Lawsuits

May 19, 2023

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Alabama legislation that would give victims of childhood sex abuse more time to sue their abusers has stalled in a committee amid opposition from insurance companies, the bill’s sponsor said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has not scheduled a vote on the bill that would extend the statute of limitations for civil actions from six years to 36 years.

“How low do you have to be to victimize a child? How low do we have to be as the body not to take the issue up?” Sen. Merika Coleman, the bill’s sponsor, said Tuesday at the Senate microphone as she expressed frustration over the bill’s delay.

Coleman said she met with insurance industry representatives Wednesday morning. She said they expressed concerns about possible liability for entities, such as a church, that might not have had knowledge about the abuse. She said they are working to craft language that targets the perpetrator but “does not hit folks that had no knowledge.”

“My major concern, of course, is finding some type of justice for these folks that have been victimized,” Coleman said.

Alabama law currently gives a six-year window into adulthood, ending at age 25, for a person to file a civil lawsuit over sexual abuse they suffered as a child. That timeframe is too short for victims, who often don’t publicly disclose what happened to them until adulthood, proponents of the bill said. The bill would raise the timeframe to 36 years, or age 55.

Victims of childhood abuse are working to change the law in Alabama and elsewhere. Fifteen states have lifted statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, according to Child USAdvocacy, a nonprofit that advocates for better laws to protect children.

Jeff Helms, director of public relations for the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance, said the legislation could impact all insurers. He said the Alabama Insurance Coalition is working with Coleman regarding their concerns.

Stuart Vance, one of three men who said they were abused by a private school teacher in the 1970s and 1980s told the Judiciary Committee last week that he would love to debate insurance industry representatives about the bill.

“They insured the Boy Scouts, churches and other organizations that knowingly hid predators in their midst. If the insurance industry has a problem with our law, they really should take it up with the organizations they insured and not the survivors whose lives were damaged and destroyed,” he said.

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