Sexual abuse victims’ chance to file lawsuits in old cases remains in question after court ruling

The Louisiana Supreme Court on Tuesday sidestepped a ruling on the constitutionality of legislation that gives victims of childhood sexual abuse a renewed chance to file lawsuits after the usual time limits for such suits have expired.

The ruling had been highly anticipated by advocates for abuse victims, who had hoped the state’s highest court would uphold the constitutionality of legislation passed in 2021 and revised in 2022.

The legislation was passed by lawmakers under the theory that fear and stigma might have kept victims from revealing the abuse as children and into adulthood. Lawmakers debated it against the backdrop of ongoing global revelations of sex abuse of children by clergy.

The Louisiana legislation gives victims until mid-2024 to file such lawsuits if they missed deadlines to file in existing law.

Kathryn Robb, executive director of Child USAdvocacy, a national nonprofit agency that advocates for better child protection laws, decried the ruling as a missed opportunity to uphold the law.

“Sadly, they punted it,” Robb said in an interview. “I think this is just going to further injure so many survivors who have been waiting for so long for their day in court, for justice and accountability.”

Robb said 26 states have passed similar “revival” laws granting victims a new chance to sue. She said 12 have been upheld so far.

The Louisiana case involved a man identified in court records only by the initials T.S. He had sued officials of a Catholic school in New Orleans, saying he was sexually abused by a priest there in 1965, when he was 11 years old.

A lower court had ruled against T.S., saying the 2021 legislation reviving his opportunity to sue was unconstitutional. Tuesday’s ruling vacated that decision on what amounts to procedural grounds. The high court said T.S. wasn’t eligible to sue — even under the language of the 2021 legislation — so it is premature to rule on the constitutionality of the law.

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