NEW YORK — Historic legislation temporarily suspending the statute of limitations for victims of sexual exploitation to bring claims in New York — affording thousands who previously had no legal recourse their day in court — is set to expire on Thanksgiving Day.
With the one-year look-back window in its twilight stage, a tsunami of Adult Survivors Act lawsuits remain pending on New York’s dockets against people and institutions spanning the public and private sectors and continue to pour in, according to the state Office of Court Administration. The legislation signed in May 2022 by Gov. Kathy Hochul allows sex abuse victims older than 18 to sue their alleged abusers and the institutions where they were harmed, no matter how long ago.
“One year is definitely not enough,” Susan Crumiller, an attorney representing dozens of clients in Adult Survivors Act suits, said Friday. “We are getting a big influx of inquiries right now, which is, of course, what we always predicted.”
Crumiller said a return to the status quo would deprive sexual assault victims of the chance to pursue justice. She said the number of claims brought under the expired Child Victims Act, which bankrupted the Boy Scouts of America, dwarfed those brought under the Adult Survivors Act that mirrored it.
“I think the more we learn about trauma and how it affects people — especially sexual assault trauma — the better we understand that, unlike a breach of contract or a slip-and-fall, these are cases where there’s a fair amount of time required for a survivor to process what happened to them,” Crumiller said.
“By the time they even acknowledge to themselves what has happened, the statute of limitations has already expired.”
Less than 10 minutes after it went into effect, writer E. Jean Carroll sued Donald Trump under the new law for sexually assaulting her in the mid-1990s in a case she’d win at trial this past May. When she initially sued then-President Trump for defamation in 2019 for accusing her of lying about the incident, Carroll couldn’t include a battery claim because it was time-barred.
In January, Manhattan Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan upheld the state law in allowing Carroll’s suit to go forward, saying Trump’s “dubious” arguments that it violated New York’s due process clause “fail to persuade.”
Trump was the first of many high-profile individuals sued under the legislation in state and federal courts, including pending suits against disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein, screenwriter James Toback, billionaire investor Leon Black and Bill Cosby. All deny wrongdoing.
In the month before the clock runs out, claims have been brought against British TV presenter Russell Brand, rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs in a quickly settled suit, Abercrombie & Fitch, Grammy Award-winning music mogul Antonio “L.A.” Reid and the former CEO of the Grammys, Neil Portnow. They deny the accusations.
The law enabled victims of Jeffrey Epstein to sue the behemoth banks JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank, where he kept his money while trafficking them for sex. Both financial institutions settled in recent months for hundreds of millions of dollars.
New York’s political class hasn’t been spared. Former city Comptroller Scott Stringer was sued this past March under the law for making unwanted advances toward a former staffer, allegations he denies. Ibrahim Khan, a former top adviser to state Attorney General Letitia James, was sued in December for sexual harassment allegations he denies.
Marissa Hoechstetter vigorously lobbied New York lawmakers to afford survivors a one-year revival window to bring claims, along with other women who were sexually abused and raped by longtime Columbia University gynecologist Robert Hadden. Hadden was convicted at his federal trial earlier this year and sentenced to 20 years behind bars — facing justice some 30 years after hospital administrators were first notified of his abuse, jurors heard at his trial.
“Columbia made an offer to me the day after it was passed. I didn’t take it,” Hoechstetter said. “These institutions are paying attention — they understood that the power dynamic changed when this was signed into law, and we need to keep putting institutions that protect these people on notice.”
After long refusing to, Columbia University and its medical arm acknowledged Monday it “failed these survivors” and said more than 6,500 former patients would be informed about Hadden’s serial sex abuse, leaving them about a week to pursue claims under the Adult Survivors Act. Hospital officials also announced a $100 million settlement fund.
This year, Columbia and New York-Presbyterian, where Hadden also worked, settled two suits involving more than 200 former patients for $236 million. Last month, 301 former patients filed suit, and more are expected.
More than 160 former patients have similarly brought claims against disgraced urologist Darius Paduch, who was arrested on federal charges in April for systemic sexual abuse, and the hospitals where he committed his alleged crimes, New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell and Northwell Health. Paduch has pleaded not guilty.
As of last Thursday, 1,118 claims had been filed under the Adult Survivors Act by 1,379 plaintiffs in New York’s supreme courts. According to the Office of Court Administration, even more have been brought in the Court of Claims by detainees — with the majority of the 1,469 claims brought by Nov. filed against state prison guards. (There is no centralized data on Adult Survivors Act suits filed in the federal courts.)
In a statement to the New York Daily News, spokesman Thomas Mailey said the state Corrections and Community Supervision Department does not comment on possible or pending litigation. He said the department has “zero tolerance for sexual abuse, sexual harassment and unauthorized relationships” and thoroughly investigates all reports of sexual victimization, last year updating its policies and launching employee training initiatives to mitigate abuse.
Veteran lawyer Michael Lamonsoff, who said his firm is handling a massive chunk of the cases brought by detainees, echoed Crumiller’s feelings, saying the pending deadline was premature. He said his team has literally been working around the clock in the lead-up to the deadline.
“The amount of cases we’ve gotten is staggering,” Lamonsoff said. “This window is too short, it’s just way too short. If these people are storming to us now, especially at the end, that means that many are going to be left outside that window when it closes.”
Lamonsoff said many of the women and men he’s connected with are incredulous to learn they have a chance at succeeding in court after years of believing nobody would care.
“There’s so many things mitigating against them coming forward, especially ex-prisoners,” he said. “What these lawsuits do for the survivors of sexual assault is so therapeutic. … We see the growth, the psychological growth of somebody who’s so downtrodden — who’s hidden this for 20, 30 years, whose whole psychology has changed, whose feeling of helplessness has all of a sudden changed to empowerment.”
Crumiller said she’s talking with state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal’s office about efforts to reopen the revival window next spring.
“It’s something, certainly, my colleagues and I will be examining once we get the data,” Hoylman-Sigal, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said. “Whether it’s temporary or permanent, there’s no question that we should be, as a state legislature, standing on the side of sexual abuse survivors.”
Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, who co-sponsored the legislation with Hoylman and the Child Victims Act, said she is conferring with advocates to find opportunities for people who weren’t ready to bring claims within the look-back period.
“Whether one’s abuser was a former U.S. president, a prominent gynecologist or a relative, this law has provided hope and a pathway to justice to many,” Rosenthal said.
“Antiquated statutes and artificial deadlines make it even more difficult for people grappling with the emotional toll of sexual trauma to seek justice, and we must continue amplifying the voices and addressing the concerns of those who have been silenced.”
Hoechstetter wouldn’t see her abuser face justice for more than a decade after he sexually assaulted her when she sought care at Columbia during her pregnancy. She said fighting to get the Adult Survivors Act passed was a means to regain control.
“It was one of those things where I felt like I had hit so many roadblocks and false promises, and I really felt like I had to take it into my own hands. I very tangibly knew a few hundred Hadden survivors who didn’t have a path to justice. … It’s heartbreaking when people get the courage to come forward, and then there’s nothing you can do for them,” she said.
“For me, once I told the truth, it was out there, and then I had the power to do with it what I wanted. And they can’t take that away from me.”
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