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Buffalo man’s testimony 18 years ago paved way for nearly 11,000 Child Victims Act lawsuits

The volume of cases in New York was 10 times the number of lawsuits filed in other states that opened similar windows suspending the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse crimes from years ago.

The state Office of Court Administration tallied a total of 10,857 lawsuits between Aug. 14, 2019 and the expiration of the Child Victims Act window on Saturday.

State courts in Western New York accounted for 1,474 of the filings, including 1,219 in Erie County – third most in the state.

New York County had the most lawsuits with 2,606, followed by Kings County with 1,620.

Prior to New York’s revival window, California and Delaware had the largest number of lawsuits in states that suspended the civil statutes of limitations in child sex abuse cases, with about 1,100 in each state, according to Child USA, a national child protection organization.

A 15-year run up to passage of the Child Victims Act was one of the reasons so many more lawsuits were filed in New York, as compared to other states, said attorney James Marsh, whose firm represents more than 500 clients with CVA cases across the state.

“The real linchpin in terms of the response is the vast cultural change, especially in the last five years, with not only the ‘Me Too’ movement and more awareness about sexual abuse and sexual coercion in general, but also the report, which came out of Pennsylvania, which ironically has not passed their version of the Child Victims Act yet,” Marsh said.

A blockbuster 2018 grand jury report – based largely upon documents seized from the Catholic church – found that 299 priests had abused more than 1,000 children across six dioceses in Pennsylvania, sending shock waves around the world.

The Buffalo Diocese, for example, filed for Chapter 11 protection on Feb. 28, 2020 – a move that blocked some 260 Child Victims Act lawsuits that had been filed at the time from moving forward. Plaintiffs attorneys responded by filing claims against parishes and other non-bankrupt Catholic entities.

But Marsh said it’s too soon to know how much of an effect the bankruptcies had on overall filing numbers.

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