Va. House clears bill extending time for sex assault victims to sue
The House on Thursday agreed to give victims of childhood sexual assault more time to sue their abusers, clearing the way for final passage of one of the more combative issues of the session.
The compromise would allow victims to file a lawsuit up to 20 years after the event, after the victim turns 18 years old, or after the abuse has come to light, such as through a recovered memory. The current statute of limitations sets a two-year limit.
Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) urged passage of the modified bill, saying it represented a difficult compromise after an emotionally charged debate. Several adult victims of sexual abuse traveled to the General Assembly to lobby for the measure, sharing poignant stories about emotional scars inflicted decades ago by abuse from clergy, police officers and other adults whom they had trusted.
But some lawmakers and organizations, including the Catholic Church, expressed reservations about extending the deadline too far. They said it would be difficult and unfair for organizations to defend against allegations that happened long in the past. They also expressed concern that tangled memories about a distant event and an absence of witnesses or other evidence could make it easier for an innocent person to be wrongly accused.
As initially written, the bills sponsored by Albo and Sen. Frederick M. Quayle (R-Chesapeake) would have extended the deadline to 25 years.
The Senate passed an amended version of Quayle's bill that would set the limit at 20 years. The House adopted Albo's bill but reduced the period to eight years. That was amended again in the Senate to 20 years, like Quayle's, and returned to the House. Albo spoke in favor of the compromise and the House passed his bill 95 to 0. Quayle's bill also passed unanimously.
"For some people, I think it could provide some access to the courts," said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond's School of Law. He also dismissed fears that people might bring groundless suits. "I just don't think it's going to open the door to those kinds of complaints," Tobias said.
| February 24, 2011; 4:40 PM ET
Categories: General Assembly 2011
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