New Jersey “lookback window” law is constitutional, Court finds, clearing the way for childhood sexual abuse claims

Recent changes to New Jersey state law in May 2019 that broadened the statute of limitations, or the time in which a person can file a claim, for civil childhood sexual abuse claims are constitutional, Morris County’s Superior Court Judge Paul Bogaard ruled. The Court’s ruling on May 22 cleared the way for dozens of pending suits to move forward under the new law, which extended the number of years available to victims to file a civil claim and set a two-year “lookback window.” Similar windows have been established in multiple states across the country and allow victims who weren’t eligible under previous, stricter statutes to now file civil claims against alleged abusers and abuse enablers, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.

Childhood sexual abuse often goes unreported until victims are well into adulthood, and in many cases the time period within which a civil claim must be filed, has long since passed. By granting victims more time to file claims, lookback window laws widen their opportunity to seek accountability from abusers and abuse enablers and protect future victims of childhood sexual abuse.   

For more information about lookback windows and sexual abuse litigation, read Motley Rice attorney Daniel Lapinski’s blog: Childhood sexual abuse litigation FAQ: “Lookback window” laws give voice to victims.

The case pending before the Morris County Superior Court was filed by a 60-year-old man who alleges a priest sexually abused him when he was a 15-year-old student at Delbarton School, a Benedictine Catholic school run by the monks of St. Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, N.J. (Motley Rice does not represent the victim in this particular case.) The defense challenged the constitutionality of the broadened statute of limitations and asked the Court to hold a Lopez hearing to weigh whether the plaintiff met statute of limitations requirements, which it refused to do.

“Lookback window laws are being enacted across the country in increasing number because we, as a nation, are finally starting to recognize the unique challenges that childhood sexual abuse victims face – challenges that often lock them out from any real shot at justice. By giving victims more time to process what was done to them and decide whether or not to come forward, these laws help to address one of the biggest hurdles that stands between countless victims and justice,” said childhood sexual abuse lawyer Daniel Lapinski. “The Court upholding this law as constitutional is promising not just for victims in New Jersey, but throughout the country as numerous men and women continue to take this opportunity to finally be heard.”

States that have already passed “window” laws or otherwise extended the time within which a victim can file include: 

Motley Rice represents victims in litigation filed under New York’s Child Victims Act who allege sexual abuse by clergy members that was hidden by the Catholic Church, and is investigating similar claims in New York, New Jersey, and California against the Boy Scouts of America. For more information or to discuss a potential claim, you may contact sexual abuse attorney Daniel Lapinski by completing this form or calling 1.800.768.4026. 

Motley Rice LLC, a South Carolina Limited Liability Company, is engaged in the New Jersey practice of law through Motley Rice New Jersey LLC. Esther Berezofsky is the attorney responsible for New Jersey practice.