If it is too late to bring a criminal case against a child abuser, should it be too late to sue in civil court? A handful of legislatures have grappled with that question, reports the Wall Street Journal, and a pair have said better late than never. California and Delaware have created litigation windows that open up a new time period for victims of childhood sexual abuse to seek redress in civil courts. New York state legislators are debating a one-year statute. Other states are mulling similar measures.
Statutes of limitations, for criminal or civil actions, help avoid circumstances in which evidence is incomplete, documents have disappeared and testimony relies on faded memories. But triggered by high-profile scandals of abuse at the hands of Catholic priests, some of which occurred decades ago, a few states have seen the need for “window laws” that temporarily open the courts again to allow past grievances to be remedied through civil actions, though not criminal prosecutions. Supporters say these laws can benefit people who might not have known years ago or didn’t disclose that they had been harmed. Yet, such laws inevitably raise questions of constitutionality and fairness.