Childhood Sex-Abuse Liability: House Votes to Extend Time Limit for Lawsuits

By Ruben Rosario
Pioneer Press [Minnesota]
Downloaded May 19, 2003

Despite objections from a group of childhood sex-abuse survivors, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill on Tuesday that would extend civil liability statutes for child victims by three years.

"This bill will only protect child molesters, not the children of Minnesota," Michael Wegs, a member of Survivors Network Minnesota, had said hours before the House voted 126-4 on an amendment to a bill sponsored by Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville. Holberg was praised by the group for supporting a change to current law that would give childhood victims up to 14 years after the age of 18 to seek damages against their abuser or those who employed or were otherwise responsible for them. It also would allow victims of childhood sex abuse to sue for damages at any time if DNA or physical evidence is collected and preserved.

But members of the Civil Law Committee, which Holberg chairs, recently approved a measure that reduced the liability window to nine years after the official age of maturity.

Current law allows childhood victims up to six years after the age of 18, or when they turn 24, to file a civil lawsuit.

"Minnesota citizens have more time under Minnesota law to capture damages from their contractor for a misplaced shingle or their surveyor for a miscalculation," said Bob Schwiderski, a group member and one of four former altar boys who say they were sexually abused by a priest in the New Ulm, Minn., diocese in the late 1950s and early 1960s. "Such a disparity is outrageous and should not continue."

The group expressed stronger support for a bill passed by the Senate two weeks ago that allows victims to file suit six years from the time they become aware of an injury caused by the abuse, and not necessarily from the time the alleged offense took place.

Opponents of both measures, which include the heads of school associations, child-care centers, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and other church groups, contend it would expose them to indefinite and costly liability and make it difficult to defend against allegations of incidents dating from decades earlier.

Schwiderski said he remains hopeful that both legislative bodies will meet later this week and find middle ground.

"I'm still pleased that they both recognize that a change is needed," he said.


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