This is all about honoring and empowering the victims of child sex abuse who had faced locked courthouse doors due to New York’s unfairly short statutes of limitations (SOLs). In other states, many victims have sued individually and found a path to justice, as you can see in the “Relative Success” graphic here.
Sadly, it took next to no time in New York after the Governor signed the bill for lawyers to start moving justice away from the victims and to their own benefit—with the filing of a class action lawsuit. The very same day, one complaint was prematurely and possibly improperly filed against Rockefeller University, where serial pedophile pediatric endocrinologist Reginald Archibald abused hundreds. It is troubling to consider that it could be replicated for other institutions or all survivors, period.
Class actions are designed for circumstances where the victims have identical or nearly identical harm, or where such small monetary amounts are at stake that individual suits are implausible. For example, they are effective and efficient when dealing with litigation over a medication or medical device, or where a $1 charge is improperly added to thousands of standardized consumer invoices. They permit aggregation of claims that are essentially redundant of each other. The University of Southern California had a notorious gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall, who sexually abused hundreds of female students. Lawyers quickly swooped in and created a class action of students. They negotiated the now infamous deal where each victim will receive a minimum of $2,500, possibly $7,500–20,000, and for some, a maximum of $250,000, while the lawyers will rake in millions. It’s great for the university as it can now “move on,” and so can the class action lawyers.
This cannot be permitted to happen to the sex abuse victims in New York, after 15 years of enormous effort to pass the Child Victims Act, who are supposed to be receiving a chance at full justice. The good news is that the class action lawsuit was filed in federal court where class actions must give victims a right to “opt out” of the lawsuit. So every victim will have the opportunity to think carefully about whether a “quickie” class action settlement is truly in her or his best interest.
The public policy problem, though, is that this is a great way for lawyers to benefit while survivors are once again made second-class participants in their own journey to justice. It’s bad enough they were victimized as children; and then they were re-victimized by insultingly short SOLs; but to be re-victimized after the CVA passes by not being taken individually and seriously in their own lawsuit constitutes the wrong result. It violates the spirit and the intent of the Child Victims Act so many labored so long to actualize.