Louisiana court may reopen window for lawsuits by adult victims of childhood sex abuse

Louisiana's Supreme Court has agreed to reconsider its ruling that wiped out a law giving adult victims of childhood sexual abuse a renewed opportunity to file damage lawsuits

Kevin McGill
Friday 10 May 2024 23:45 BST
Child Sex Abuse Louisiana
Child Sex Abuse Louisiana (Copyright 2020 The AP. All Rights Reserved.)

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Louise Thomas

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Louisiana’s Supreme Court agreed Friday to reconsider its recent ruling that wiped out a state law giving adult victims of childhood sexual abuse a renewed opportunity to file damage lawsuits.

The law was passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 2021 and amended in 2022. Sometimes called a “look back” law, it gave victims of past abuse, whose deadlines for filing civil lawsuits had expired, until June 14 of this year to file — a deadline that could be extended until June of 2027 under pending legislation. At the time, its chief sponsor, Rep. Jason Hughes, a New Orleans Democrat, cited research that showed the average age for child sex abuse victims to report the crimes is 52.

In a 4-3 ruling in March, the state’s highest court had said the law conflicted with due process rights in the state constitution. Justices James Genovese, Scott Crichton, Jefferson Hughes and Piper Griffin had been in the majority in March. But in Friday’s order, Crichton and Griffin joined Chief Justice John Weimer and justices Jay McCallum and William Crain in granting a rehearing.

“This was the right decision — as the bill passed unanimously through the State Legislature and should be the law here in Louisiana,” Louisiana Attorney Gen. Liz Murrill said in a news release.

Friday's decision comes as the Catholic Church continues to deal with the ramifications of a decades-old sex scandal. The ruling that is getting a second look arose from a case filed against the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette by plaintiffs who said they were molested by a priest in the 1970s while they ranged in age from 8 to 14, according to the Supreme Court record.

The rehearing decision follows last week's revelation that Louisiana State Police carried out a sweeping search warrant in April at the Archdiocese of New Orleans, seeking records and communications between local church leaders and the Vatican about the church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse.

Friday's order did not set a new court date for arguments on the look back law, but it gave parties until May 20 to file briefs. The new majority didn't assign reasons for granting a rehearing, although Weimer said the court should have set a hearing for this month.

Hughes criticized the decision in a brief dissent saying civilizations have provided time limits on legal claims for centuries.

“Special interest exceptions are anathema to the broader and more important concept of Justice,” he wrote. “Equal protection means equal.”

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