In the two years leading up to Aug. 4, survivors of child sexual abuse filed more than 8,263 civil suits in New York against their alleged abusers and the institutions that employed them.
Seven days later, that total jumped by nearly 1,000 to 9,241, according to data from the state’s Office of Court Administration.
The dramatic rise in cases is coming ahead of the end of a so-called “look-back,” or revival window for claims of child sexual abuse written into law with the Child Victims Act of 2019. The law changed the statute of limitations for such crimes, raising to 55 from 23 the age by which a person must file a civil claim for sexual abuse they experienced younger than 18. It also created a temporary period during which people older than 55 could also sue for childhood abuse.
That window, which allowed survivors to sue people and institutions for abuse dating to the 1970s and earlier, is ending as of Aug. 14.
“The flood of calls is enormous right now, as people realize there is no more time,” said Jennifer Freeman, an attorney with the Manhattan-based Marsh Law Firm, who is overseeing CVA suits against major institutions, such as the Archdiocese of New York and the Boy Scouts of America. “They really have to make a decision.”
Between Freeman’s firm and another law firm they partner with on such cases, they have 20 lawyers working round-the-clock on fielding last-minute calls from survivors and writing and filing new complaints.
Freeman said that she has had some plaintiffs with cases pending die of COVID-19.
Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the initial 12-month look-back window for another year because of the pandemic, but Freeman says it hasn’t been enough time.
“I don’t know who hasn’t been able to call me, because they’re still sick, or their loved one is still sick and suffering,” she said.
The delay has been frustrating for survivors who filed suit on the first day of the look-back window, like Rich Cardillo, a client at Freeman’s firm, who is suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and a Catholic prep school in New Rochelle over a sexual assault he says he endured as a teenager in the spring of 1975.