Newspapers across the country have been fervently putting out stories about the Penn State scandal, as they should.
In Monday's Inquirer, in a front page article written by David O'Reilly (11/14/11 'PSU Scandal Expected To Prompt Laws") the report was mainly about the fact that the Pennsylvania Legislature is quickly revamping laws regarding the criminality of non reporting of child abuse. I found one portion of the article particularly interesting however.
Some also voice hope that their colleagues will take another look at proposals already on the table, including a right-to-sue bill for abuse victims that is stalled in committee....Several lawmakers have scheduled a news conference for noon Tuesday in the Capitol rotunda to demand action on various abuse-related bills.Among them will be Rep. Michael McGeehan (D., Phila), who introduced a bill in March that would give all victims of child sex abuse a two-year window of opportunity to sue their assailants. Many adults who were abused as children are barred from suing because the statute of limitations on their assaults has expired.The current Republican chairman of the judiciary committee and the previous Democratic chairman have both refused to hold hearings on McGeehan's bill or bring it up for a vote.
In an era when "right to sue" laws are shunned by the political right, in a state that has a Republican Legislature and Governor, this was welcome news. Under present laws in Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations, the time in which one must file suit or be forever barred from doing so, is two years from the date of the offending incident. In a car accident case, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the accident. in a medical malpractice case, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the medical care which caused injury to the patient. These are hard and fast rules. The only exception is for minors, who have two years from their 18th birthday to file suit against the wrongdoer.
In 2002, the Pennsylvania Legislature amended the statute of limitations to create an exception for childhood sexual abuse. 42 Pa. C.S.A. Section 5533 provides:
i) If an individual entitled to bring a civil action arising from childhood sexual abuse is under 18 years of age at the time the cause of action accrues, the individual shall have a period of 12 years after attaining 18 years of age in which to commence an action for damages regardless of whether the individual files a criminal complaint regarding the childhood sexual abuse.
(ii) For the purposes of this paragraph, the term “childhood sexual abuse” shall include, but not be limited to, the following sexual activities between a minor and an adult, provided that the individual bringing the civil action engaged in such activities as a result of forcible compulsion or by threat of forcible compulsion which would prevent resistance by a person of reasonable resolution:
(A) sexual intercourse, which includes penetration, however slight, of any body part or object into the sex organ of another;
(B) deviate sexual intercourse, which includes sexual intercourse per os or per anus; and
(C) indecent contact, which includes any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of the person for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire in either person.
(iii) For purposes of this paragraph, “forcible compulsion” shall have the meaning given to it in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3101.
In the typical sex abuse case, it is not unlikely the the victim does not immediately come forward. Extending the statute of limitations by allowing Pennsylvanians who have suffered from sexual abuse an even additional length of time from the date the abuse is reported to law enforcement authorities seems like the balanced and fair approach. Abolishing the statute of limitations in these cases does not seem likely, but as reported in The Patriot News as of April 2011 there was a push in Harrisburg to do just that. Hopefully, in light of what has happened at Penn State, we will see a more favorable statute of limitations law passed soon to allow victims sufficient time to seek compensation from their assailants, or, as in the Penn State situation, compensation from the institutions that allowed the abuse to occur.
UPDATE: Chris Mondics 11/24/11 article " Pa. laws could limit any Sandusky suits"in the Philadelphia Inquirer provides further information on how the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania penalizes victims of sexual abuse. Shanin Specter of Kline and Specter is quite correct when he says
If you are under 20 [when one files], you are good; if you are over 30, you are out; if you are between 20 and 30, the statute turns on how you define forcible compulsions," said Specter. "I believe that, ultimately, the claims will get through the statute of limitations because these situations involve a man [Sandusky] in his 50s or 60s with young boys, where he had a domineering position.