Perpetrators of clergy sexual abuse, and anyone who enabled their devastating actions, deserve to face justice and accountability. Justice and accountability under the law can take several forms. There are criminal laws to punish wrongdoers. And laws allow survivors to bring civil lawsuits to seek compensation and other forms of relief from abusers and church institutions that turned a blind eye. For years, however, survivors of clergy sexual abuse have faced challenges in New Jersey courts because of outdated “statute of limitations” laws that caused their claims to expire before they were able to reveal their histories of abuse and confront the past. But the tide has turned. For more than two decades, the public has increasingly come to grips with widespread allegations of sexual abuse against church institutions. The Roman Catholic Church has garnered the most attention as wave after wave of allegations have surfaced against members of the Catholic clergy, including here in New Jersey. The accountability organization Bishop-Accountability.org lists all four New Jersey Dioceses (Camden, Metuchen, Paterson, and Trenton), as well as the Archdiocese of Newark, as having employed priests and other clergy members accused, and in some cases convicted, of sexual misconduct. But the Catholic Church is not the only faith community that has confronted a culture of sexual abuse in its ranks. Protestant congregations nationwide, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the United Methodist Church, as well as some American Jewish and Muslim congregations, have all come under scrutiny. In New Jersey, civil statutes of limitations previously posed a challenge for many survivors of clergy sexual abuse who did not come forward with their allegations until many years after the abuse occurred. Now, a new law that takes effect on December 1, 2019, offers sexual abuse survivors a powerful opportunity to take action against clerical wrongdoers and church institutions. Representing clients nationwide, Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman are affiliated law firms whose sole mission is to fight for the interests of innocent victims of other people’s wrongful conduct, including survivors of clergy sexual abuse. We invite anyone in New Jersey with questions about taking legal action against clergy sexual abuse to contact us to schedule a free, confidential consultation with a member of our team.
We Represent Survivors of New Jersey Clergy Sexual Abuse
The compassionate, skilled litigation attorneys at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman have committed their careers to pursuing justice and accountability for wrongs that harm innocent victims. Over the years, they have earned a reputation for taking on and winning the most complicated and difficult cases. Every client of Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman gets our full attention, and we invest the full measure of our commitment and know-how into achieving just and fair outcomes in the courts. We take a special, personal interest in representing brave survivors of clergy sexual abuse who have the courage to step forward with an allegation against a clergy member and/or a church institution. That is often a very difficult decision to make, and we honor it by delivering compassionate, straightforward, accurate legal advice and counsel to help those survivors achieve an outcome that serves their needs. Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman lawyers have recovered millions of dollars on behalf of their clients through settlements and jury verdicts. We are not afraid to stand up to the largest, most powerful institutions to do what’s right. And although we cannot guarantee an outcome for any particular client, we can promise that we will listen to our clients and shape the best possible legal strategies to honor their motivations for stepping forward with an allegation against a clergy member and/or church organization. We will never pressure a client to take action or accept a settlement.
Changes to New Jersey Statute of Limitations for Clergy Sexual Abuse Claims
It is never easy for survivors of clergy sexual abuse to step forward and tell their stories, particularly in the legal arena. Advocates for sexual abuse survivors have found that many survivors resist coming forward out of a belief that the laws are stacked against them, leaving them without meaningful access to justice and accountability. Sadly, in many parts of the country, survivors have had reason to think this. Laws in some states, including New Jersey, have historically placed what feels like an arbitrary time limit on taking legal action against sexual abuse, including against clergy and church institutions. That is why the recent change in New Jersey law is so significant. On May 13, 2019, Governor Murphy approved a new law that radically alters the statute of limitations for taking civil action against clergy sexual abuse. The new law, which goes into effect on December 1, 2019, has several provisions that give survivors of clergy sexual abuse vastly-improved access to the courts:
- The law opens a two-year window, starting December 1, 2019, for all clergy sexual abuse survivors whose claims have already expired under existing statute of limitations laws to file their claims. This means that if you ever had a claim for New Jersey clergy sexual abuse that you could have pursued, but chose not to, you have at least two years to bring that claim, starting December 1, 2019.
- The law also extends the statute of limitations for existing (that is, not-already-expired) claims for clergy sexual abuse to the later of age 55 or or “within seven years from the date of reasonable discovery of the injury and its causal relationship to” the abuse. This means that if you only discover later in life that a history of mental health challenges, such as depression or anxiety, was caused by an incident of childhood clergy sexual abuse, you may still have a claim.
- The law puts in place substantial protections against so-called “victim blaming” defense tactics that attack survivors as a way to avoid legal liability.
- The law sets minimum damages of $10,000, plus reasonable attorney’s fees, in any successful civil action.
The new law is one of the most powerful in the nation for holding sexual abusers, including clergy members and church institutions who enabled them, accountable. At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman, we expect it to help lead to a true reckoning for church institutions that have, for too long, avoided facing the truth and consequences of clergy sexual abuse.
Justice and Accountability for New Jersey Clergy Sexual Abuse
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman lawyers have a keen appreciation for the many different reasons survivors of clergy sexual abuse have for stepping forward to tell their stories. For some, the motivation is to see justice done. For others, it is to achieve some measure of personal peace or closure. For many, if not most, there is a strong drive to protect future innocent victims of clergy sexual predation. In other words, there is no single, “right” reason for revealing a history of clergy sexual abuse, nor is there a single “right” way to seek justice and accountability in the courts. At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman, we aim to present our clients with an array of options that may help them achieve the outcome they hope for, including:
Suing for Damages
As described above, the change in New Jersey law sets a minimum amount of recoverable damages in any successful sexual abuse lawsuit at $10,000 plus reasonable attorney’s fees. But that is just the minimum. Survivors have the right to seek “actual damages” that could be much higher. The law defines “actual damages” as a combination of “compensatory and punitive damages and costs of suit, including reasonable attorney’s fees.” Under the law, compensatory damages “may include, but are not limited to, damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses, emotional trauma, diminished childhood, diminished enjoyment of life, costs of counseling, and lost wages.” The types and amount of damages any particular survivor may have the ability to recover in a lawsuit will vary, of course. No two cases are identical. That is why the lawyers at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman work hand-in-hand with our clients who have made allegations of clergy sexual abuse to identify every potential source of damages, so that we can not just make, but also prove, the maximum possible compensation available.
Lawsuits are not always about money. In many cases involving clergy sexual abuse, survivors hope to help make meaningful change in how faith communities confront and prevent future instances of clergy sexual abuse. In some lawsuits, those survivors may have the option of asking a court to award what is known as “injunctive relief,” a legal term that refers to a court order directing a defendant to take certain actions, such as an order to take proactive measures to help prevent clergy sexual misconduct. At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman, we listen carefully to our clients’ goals and hopes in coming forward, to determine whether a claim for an “injunction” may constitute an appropriate part of their legal strategy.
Participating in Criminal Matters
In New Jersey, similarly to the rest of the nation, prosecutors decide whether to charge a citizen or institution with a crime. In making that decision, they may take the wishes of a crime victim into account; and as a practical matter, the victim’s participation as a witness for the prosecution may become essential. That means that survivors of clergy sexual abuse may face the choice of deciding whether to participate in criminal cases against their abusers. There is no “correct” or “incorrect” decision. Some survivors crave the chance to testify against an abuser, while others would rather avoid it. At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman, when our client has the option of participating in a criminal prosecution, we make it our mission to give our clients sound, sensible, compassionate legal advice, and to support whatever decision they make by protecting their legal rights and personal interests.
Making a Clergy Sexual Abuse Allegation in New Jersey
This page is not the place for us to give advice about coming forward to reveal a history of clergy sexual abuse. Anyone reading this no doubt recognizes it is often an incredibly difficult and painful decision. What we can say is that we have found that our clients often benefit substantially from having a strong emotional support system in place before they begin a legal process, including the services of a trained mental health professional. As lawyers for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, our focus is on serving our clients’ interests. To do this, we often ask our clients to tell us about painful and difficult experiences (which is one reason why we encourage them to have strong support systems). But rest assured, anything a survivor of clergy sexual abuse tells us is held strictly confidential unless and until our client decides it may be shared in the context of a legal action. Our first priority is protecting our clients. After having listened to our clients’ stories, the lawyers at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman work tirelessly to formulate a legal strategy that fits each individual client’s needs and goals. We provide compassionate, straightforward, knowledgeable legal advice, because that is what our clients expect and deserve from their lawyer.
Attorneys for Survivors of New Jersey Clergy Sexual Abuse
Survivors of clergy sexual abuse decide to explore their legal options at different times, for different reasons. When they reach that point, however, they nearly always have questions about how they should proceed. At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman, it would be our privilege and honor to help answer those questions. If you would like to know more about taking legal action in New Jersey against a clergy member or church institution for sexual abuse, the experienced clergy sexual abuse attorneys at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman want to hear from you. Reach us online or by phone at 833-552-7274 to schedule a confidential, free, no-obligation consultation. Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 833-552-7274 Online Contact Form