The 2019 New York Child Victims Act (CVA) improved the legal rights of child sexual abuse victims. It granted victims a one-year window during which they could file legal claims regardless of deadlines. The window was originally scheduled to close August 13, 2020. Now, thanks to an extension signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, survivors of child sexual abuse have an additional year to file expired cases.
The legal “look back” window now closes on August 14, 2021.
How The CVA “Look Back” Window Benefits Victims
New York lawmakers passed the CVA in 2019 to help victims of child sexual abuse. The law extended the statute of limitations for civil claims of child sexual abuse. However, many victims with older cases would still be barred from filing a civil claim under the new law.
Thus, state lawmakers included a one-year legal “look back” window. During this year, any victim of child sexual abuse in the state of New York could file a civil lawsuit against an abuser. This includes victims with expired cases under the new statute of limitations.
A statute of limitations (SOL) is a legal deadline. SOLs vary based on the jurisdiction, the crime and the intended legal action (criminal charges versus a civil claim).
COVID-19 Restrictions Shortened The “Look Back” Window
The original “look back” window was scheduled to end on August 13, 2020. But in March 2020, COVID-19 restrictions forced New York State courts to close for several months. These closures affected sexual abuse survivors looking to take legal action in two ways:
- State court closures paused child sexual abuse cases already filed.
- State court closures prevented survivors from filing new child sexual abuse claims.
Thus, the original year-long window was significantly shortened. Lawmakers took notice of this issue.
Lawmakers Extend the CVA “Look Back” Window
In May 2020, Governor Cuomo signed an executive order to extend the “look back” window. This initial extension gave survivors five additional months to file claims. Under Governor Cuomo’s executive order, the window would close on January 14, 2021.
Several weeks after Governor Cuomo passed the executive order, New York lawmakers passed a piece of legislation to further extend the deadline. According to the proposed law, survivors of child sex abuse would have more time to file civil claims.
After passing in both the state Senate and state Assembly, the bill was sent to Governor Cuomo. On August 3, 2020, Governor Cuomo signed the bill into law. In New York State, survivors of child sexual abuse may file any civil claim until August 14, 2021, no matter how long ago the incident took place.
Future Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuits In New York
The pandemic prompted many lawmakers to take action to address the shortened time limit. However, some lawmakers were discussing CVA extensions prior to the pandemic.
After passing the CVA, New York had one of the shortest “look back” windows of states that enacted similar legislation. Some lawmakers and victim advocates argued one year would not be enough time for victims with expired cases to take legal action.
Reporting abuse or filing a lawsuit is a big decision for an abuse victim. It can take years for victims to gather the courage to take action. Understanding this concept, several states, including California, New Jersey and North Carolina, have enacted multi-year “look back” windows. This latest extension places New York on this list as well.
Since the initial bill was passed, more than 3,000 cases have been filed under the CVA. More lawsuits are expected to be filed in New York against individual abusers and organizations such as the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America and many K-12 schools.
Note: This extension did not extend the deadline to file a claim against the Rochester Diocese. The Diocese of Rochester is currently in bankruptcy proceedings. All victims of abuse filing a claim against the Rochester Diocese were required to do so before August 13, 2020.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. (2020, August 3). Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Extending Look Back Window for Child Victims Act. New York State.
Harris, C., Bragg, C. (2020, August 3). Cuomo signs new extension of Child Victims Act lawsuit window. Times Union.
Lahman, S. (2020, August 3). Cuomo signs law to extend CVA deadline a full year, doesn’t apply to Dioceses in bankruptcy. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.