New Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Lawsuits and Baton Rouge Catholic Church Abuse

March 16, 2022
New Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Lawsuits and Baton Rouge Catholic Church Abuse

Changing Statute of Limitations Laws Let Child Catholic Sex Abuse Survivors Sue Church

In recent years, the Catholic Church has experienced a profound and widespread reckoning regarding its perpetration and concealment of sexual abuse against children. Those who dedicate themselves to the priesthood are expected to uphold the values and virtues of Catholicism, and most do.  However, the church has struggled with the persistent issue of child predators among them who are now facing allegations of sexual misconduct with minors. Many of these children, now grown, thought they had lost the chance to pursue damages for abuse due to many states' policies on the statute of limitations, which rejected claims that were filed “too long” after the abuse occurred. Clergy sexual abuse lawyers and advocates for survivors of sexual abuse have been vocal opponents of these restrictions. Starting in the 2000s, legislation began to rectify outdated statute of limitation practices, most recently in Lousiana. Lawyers representing these sex abuse survivors have moved to file claims against child predators within the clergy, including a new lawsuit against the Diocese of Baton Rouge, that would have otherwise been dismissed.

New Louisiana Law Suspends Statute of Limitations on Child Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Until June of 2021, Louisiana law placed strict limitations on how long a person could wait to file a lawsuit after being sexually abused as a child. If a survivor hadn't filed a claim by age 28, they lost the opportunity to do so for the rest of their lives. Other states have had similar constraints, but many have adopted more lenient statute of limitations policies. Last summer, Louisiana HB 492 was signed into law by Governor John Bel Edwards, reconciling the law with the realities of reporting childhood sexual abuse. Rep. Hughes, the primary author of the bill, says the bill was intended to warn “vicious predator[s] that child sexual abuse is unconscionable and will not be tolerated.”

Understanding Louisiana's Updated Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations Policy

The Louisiana state legislature unanimously approved a “look back” law that created two key provisions for survivors of sexual abuse. First, it eliminated the age limit for reporting childhood sexual abuse, which had previously given survivors only ten years after their 18th birthday to pursue litigation.  Second, it established a three-year window of opportunity for those who are over 28 and have not settled a civil claim to begin the process of filing a claim. This legislation and other bills like it open up the floodgates to adults who experienced sexual abuse at the hands of clergy decades ago to finally pursue justice within the civil court system

Baton Rouge Priest Accused of Child Sex Abuse Under Extended Statute of Limitation

An anonymous survivor, now a man in his late 50's, accused a Baton Rouge priest last week under Louisiana's new law. The plaintiff claims Fr. John Weber repeatedly abused him in the mid-1970s when he was only 13. Weber died in 2000, but his service to the church spanned 5 decades and 10 parishes. According to lawyers representing the Baton Rouge man, Fr. John Weber's placement at this particular diocese was no coincidence; they claim that abusive priests were relocated from the Archdiocese of New Orleans to the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  Unfortunately, moving problematic priests around to shield them and the church's reputation from repercussions is a common practice in the Church's history, allowing child predators to slip through the cracks for decades. This constitutes one example of not only nationwide but also international pattern of willful negligence in the Church's duty to protect children from sexual abuse. 

The Scope of Child Sex Abuse Within the Catholic Church

As of 2015, over 2 million students attend Catholic schools in the U.S., with a total of nearly 4 million students enrolled in private religious institutions across the U.S. Millions of children also attend Catholic Church services and functions. After sexual abuse allegations that spanned decades began coming to light, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned the John Jay Report, a massive retrospective study. It identified 4,392 clergy members -almost exclusively men- who were accused of sexually abusing minors -mostly boys- between 1950 and 2002. Their actions impacted 95% of dioceses in the study, likely due to the Church's practice of relocating abusers. In effect, a small number of men did a disproportionate amount of damage.

How Does Sexual Abuse Impact Survivors Filing Lawsuits?

Although this is a well-respected and fairly comprehensive study, the true figures are higher. It does not include claims from the last 20 years, during which time cultural norms surrounding sexual assault and homosexuality have evolved dramatically, paving the way for more survivors to come forward and be believed.  Regardless of shifting understanding, survivors may not know how to identify or report sexual abuse until many years later, making some statute of limitation laws a barrier to justice. Dolman Law Group has long advocated for sexual abuse survivors, and we are prepared to aid survivors across the U.S. in the process of taking legal action.

Who is Liable in a Child Sex Abuse Lawsuit?

The Catholic Church staff had the responsibility to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse in their churches and schools and report their findings to law enforcement. Their deliberate and systemic negligence violated the rights and the trust of minors placed under their physical and spiritual authority. In addition to the perpetrator of the abuse, those who failed to prevent the abuse when they had knowledge of the risk posed, or attempted to cover it up can be found liable in civil court. For example, the church where the abuse occurred may also be found culpable in the lawsuit through third-party liability. If you've experienced abuse at the hands of a clergy member, you may be unsure as to what type of lawyer you should hire to file a lawsuit. The personal injury lawyers of Dolman Law Group have successfully handled many civil lawsuits to recover damages on behalf of sexual abuse survivors, supporting them on the road to healing.

Why Are Child Sexual Abuse Damages Difficult to Determine?

Due to the traumatic nature of sexual abuse and varying statute of limitations, calculating damages in sexual abuse cases can be a delicate and complicated process. Special damages may compensate for the cost of therapy or medical bills stemming from injuries incurred during the abuse, and many survivors also seek damages for pain and suffering. When the abuse occurred decades ago, memories may be fuzzy, and providing examples of physical trauma may prove challenging if it went unreported. Without that evidence, it can be hard to put a dollar value on damages. Survivors may not even recognize that what happened to them was sexual assault and they have legal recourse. On the other hand, if abuse was recent, the true emotional impact may be undetermined because the survivor has not received therapy or experienced the long-term detriments to come.  Regardless of when the incident occurred, adult survivors and abused children need lawyers to ensure they receive the compensation they are owed.

How Can a Personal Injury Lawyer Help Me in a Church Sexual Abuse Claim?

A qualified sexual abuse attorney will tell you that the ramifications of sexual abuse don't simply cease when the abuse does. In most cases, the effects of sexual abuse can be life-long, and even latent.  That's why it is critical to seek a reputable sexual abuse attorney to represent your case.  We will retain doctors and experts to testify to the physical and emotional impact of your sexual abuse, clearly connect the Church's negligence in their duty to intervene and protect children from abuse to the losses you have suffered, and guard your right to privacy and compensation. The statute of limitations on pursuing a civil claim against sexual abusers varies from state to state, which is why you need a firm with ample resources and results in multiple jurisdictions to shepherd your lawsuit successfully. Contact Dolman Law Group for Help With Your Institutional Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Dolman Law Group has built its reputation on reclaiming dignity and damages for anyone who has been wronged by someone else's negligence. We maintain a list of priests who are known for the sexual abuse of minors, and we are prepared to pursue legal action on behalf of their victims wherever possible. While changing statutes of limitations are welcome news for survivors and advocates alike, that doesn't make the prospect of confronting an abuser or negligent institution any less intimidating. You need a respected, relentless advocate to help guide you through the legal process of your sexual abuse lawsuit. There may be a statute of limitations on your sexual abuse claim, but there is no expiration date on trauma. Recovering from sexual abuse is often a life-long endeavor that can have an impact on your future physical and mental health, as well as your finances.  Dolman Law Group understands that these lawsuits require more sensitivity than your average litigation and works in close contact with our clients to ensure they receive effective and empathetic legal representation. Contact our offices at (727) 451-6900. You can also send us an email on our contact us page.  

Matthew Dolman

Clearwater Personal Injury and Insurance Attorney

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess or $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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