Statute of limitations bill returns, but not retroactive this time

For the past two years, lawmakers and victims have sought to extend the civil statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases, but the controversial proposals never made it to a vote in the full House or Senate. Opponents criticized the proposals for making the change retroactive.

Now state Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, has introduced a bill that would eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, exploitation or assault, but would not apply retroactively. The current age limit for filing a lawsuit is 48.

Bye, a key supporter of the previous bills, said she hoped that making the bill prospective would address concerns some lawmakers had about a retroactive change. She said she still hears from people who tell her they were abused and thank her for her support.

“There are so many victims all over that I think I felt compelled to do something to protect folks going forward,” Bye said.

Public hearings on the previous proposals drew emotional testimony from victims, some of whom said it took them decades to come to terms with the abuse. The state’s Catholic bishops opposed the proposals, warning that a retroactive change in the age limit could allow lawsuits that are decades old and difficult to defend, and could lead to bankruptcy or other financial problems for parishes.

The two previous bills were inspired by the case of the late Dr. George Reardon, who worked at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center for three decades and is believed to have sexually abused as many as 500 children. Reardon died in 1998, but proof of the abuse came to light in 2007, when the owner of his former home found more than 50,000 slides and 100 movie reels of child pornography hidden in a wall.

Since then, close to 150 people have filed lawsuits against the hospital, alleging that it was negligent for failing to stop the abuse. More than 50 plaintiffs were beyond the age limit to sue, and others said the statute of limitations had stopped them from filing lawsuits.

St. Francis officials have said the hospital was unaware of the specific allegations against Reardon until 1993, when state health officials sought to revoke his license.

Bye’s bill would not affect the Reardon case. Jury selection is scheduled to begin in March for the first trial in the case, which will include four of the lawsuits against the hospital.