On February 14, 2019, former governor of New York Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victim’s Act into law. The law modified the statute of limitations for sexual abuse and molestation civil lawsuits and created a one-year window for older victims to file such suits. The window was extended twice because of COVID-related court shutdowns and it ultimately expired August 14, 2021.
During that time, the Associated Press estimated that more than 9,000 lawsuits were filed—representing a heartbreaking number of victims who may have waited years, if not decades, to seek justice. As we have seen across the country, many schools and religious institutions are facing lawsuits and four Catholic dioceses in New York have filed for bankruptcy.
Look Towards Insurance for Support
Some institutions may be facing sex abuse claims for the first time and struggling with how to proceed. The first step of course would be to secure legal representation. However, these organizations should also quickly look towards their insurance for possible support. The good news is that liability insurance policies purchased decades ago may provide coverage for these claims if the policies were in effect at the time of the alleged abuse. These policies may have the duty to provide for and fund the defense of such claims, and their full limits may be available to pay each claim and provide substantial compensation to sexual abuse survivors.
Starting the Insurance Search
Finding those insurance policies, or at least evidence of them, can be tricky. Although many organizations routinely discarded copies of insurance policies after a few years if no claims arose, all hope is not lost. There are a variety of contemporaneous records that can provide clues as to who the liability insurer might have been during the relevant timeframe, including claims files, schedules attached to financial audits, general ledgers, board or finance committee meeting minutes, and outside counsel records, to name a few. This practice, called “insurance archaeology,” typically requires stakeholders and organizational historians and archivists working in tandem, and some organizations opt to bring in outside expertise for assistance.
KCIC has many years of experience in searching for and finding old insurance policies to respond to claims. We typically approach such cases from many angles to see what records can be recovered and utilize our database of insurance policy forms and insurance companies to locate potentially responsible insurers when evidence of policies is uncovered.
While the Child Victim’s Act window expired last month, there is talk about establishing a new window or abolishing the statute of limitations for these kinds of claims. Many other states have already passed similar legislation, including New Jersey, North Carolina and, most recently, Colorado. Pennsylvania’s legislature has proposed a constitutional amendment that would, among other things, create a two-year lookback window.
Society will continue to reckon with the terrible legacy of the abuse of so many young people for years to come and financial compensation will be an important part of it. Consequently, all institutions and organizations that work with children should proactively begin the search for insurance policies, even if they have not yet received any claims.
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Nick Sochurek has extensive experience in leading complex insurance policy reviews and analysis for a variety of corporate policyholders using relational database technology.Learn More About Nicholas