California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 218 into law on Sunday, October 13, 2019. AB 218 will extend the time frame that victims of childhood sexual assault victims can file a lawsuit against their alleged abusers. While many sexual assault survivors, advocates, and lawyers praised the bill, opponents say it goes too far and could have devastating effects on school districts.
California's Original Limit vs. AB 218
Previously, victims of childhood sexual abuse had an age limit of 26 or within three years from discovery of the abuse to file a lawsuit against their alleged abusers. AB 218 also changes the language of the law from “childhood sexual abuse” to “childhood sexual assault” and extends the age limit to 40 or within five years of discovery. Finally, AB 218 provides a three-year window for survivors to file a lawsuit regardless of when the abuse happened.
This new law will go into effect on January 1, 2020.
Advocates for AB 218
Victims and victim advocate groups are hailing AB 218 as a step forward for not just survivors but potential survivors. Changing the language of the statute from “abuse” to “assault” will make any charges more serious. Childhood sexual assault victims will have a three-year “lookback” period where they can bring civil suits not only against a predator but the institutions that covered for them, such as the Catholic Church or Boy Scouts of America.
One victim said,
It's a chance for me to heal and move on, and it's a chance for others to heal and move on.
This victim said he was a victim of Orange County priest Richard T. Coughlin in the mid 1970s. Coughlin was accused by dozens of sexual abuse and removed from the priesthood in 1993.
Critics of AB 218
Many California school districts opposed AB 218 claim that the new bill's age limit of 40 means that it will be much harder to find evidence or witnesses, and the new legal standard for liability will make it easier for victims to win their lawsuits.
Finally, if victims are able to prove that an entity such as a school district tried to cover up the abuse, the courts can multiply damages by three-fold. A spokesman for the California School Boards Association said
This bill has a very real chance of bankrupting or impoverishing many districts which would inhibit our ability to properly serve today's students and students in years to come.
Sigal Law Group
Thanks to AB 218, you may be shocked to find yourself suddenly the target of a civil lawsuit that claims you committed lewd or lascivious acts against a child. Just remember, a civil suit does not mean that criminal charges will be filed against you. That said, regardless of whether the charges are civil or criminal, you have the right to defend yourself against outrageous charges.
If you face criminal charges, an experienced firm like Sigal Law Group can help. Call us at 818-325-0570 or fill out our contact form today.