State Bill Would Allow More Time to Sue over Alleged Childhood Abuse

By Patricia Rice
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [Missouri]
May 19, 2003

The Missouri Legislature voted to extend the statute of limitations by eight years to the age of 38 for those who file civil suits against alleged sexual abusers in cases involving minors.

If Gov. Bob Holden signs the bill, it likely will increase the number of lawsuits against many organizations, including schools and the state's three Catholic dioceses and the St. Louis Archdiocese.

Alleged victims currently have until they turn 30 to file lawsuits for damages from sexual abuse as a minor.

The proposed measure was attached to the foster care bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick Dougherty, D-St. Louis.

This bill would not alter the statute of limitations in Missouri criminal cases. The clock stops on those cases 10 years after the victim turns 18.

David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a victims' support organization, said in an interview from New York City that SNAP had quietly worked for the bill for weeks. His group got advice from lawyers.

"It's tremendous that survivors' groups have come together to help those who need help," said lawyer Patrick Noaker of Minneapolis, who has about a dozen civil lawsuits pending in Missouri, all against Catholic priests or former priests.

"Access to civil courts tends to drive the justice system," he said. "It's very common, in the area of child abuse, that the civil system has to develop before the criminal authorities can do much."

The Minnesota lawyer was a consultant to SNAP's lobbying efforts for changes in both the Missouri and Illinois legislatures' recent bills.

Illinois legislators voted to extend limitations on criminal cases last week. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected to sign the bill, passed last Thursday, that would extend by a decade the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges in sex abuse cases involving minors.

Under its existing law, Illinois permits criminal action until the alleged victim is 28. The new Illinois bill would allow criminal charges to be filed until the alleged victim turns 38.

The bill also goes further. It would extend victims' ability to file civil suits for five years after they "discover" or recall the act of childhood sexual abuse. Currently, Illinois civil suits must be filed within two years of the victim's realization of the abuse.

"Illinois has a better bill," Clohessy said. "Survivors want to see the (Missouri) criminal bill extended."

Reporter Patricia Rice:


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