Compromise bill on sex abuse lawsuits still hits opposition

A new compromise bill to remove time limits on the filing of lawsuits by victims of child sexual abuse drew renewed opposition Monday from longtime opponents of previous efforts, the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference and the insurance industry.

The compromise attempted to address objections to previous proposals by making the change effective only for future actions rather than retroactive.


Michael C. Culhane with the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference: the amount of time ‘is already very generous’

But opponents said the current statute of limitations–victims of childhood abuse have 30 years from the time they turn 18 to file–is adequate.

“That’s long enough. That’s one of the longest times in the country,” said Michael C. Culhane, executive director of the Catholic Conference, an organization representing the state’s Catholic bishops. “It’s already very generous.”

“Statute of limitations ensures that information is available and evidence does become stale,” the Insurance Association of Connecticut said in written testimony on the bill. “How is a defendant to defend against against a claim, potentially 60 years after an event happened?”

The statute of limitations question is of immediate importance to the Catholic Conference because of a a high-profile case set to begin this week against St. Francis Hospital. That suit claims the hospital failed to appropriately handle sexual abuse allegations against  Dr. George Reardon, former St. Francis endocrinologist suspected of abusing hundreds of children starting as early as the 1960s. More than 50 victims in that case are unable to file suit because too much time has passed.

Unlike previous proposals, the new statute of limitations bill would not help those victims because it only applies to future cases.

“This is starting today… This is a huge compromise,” said Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford. She said she has had 25 abuse victims reach out to her telling her they were too late to seek damages when they finally decided to come forward.

“This makes sure it doesn’t happen to anyone again in the future,” Bye said.

But the Catholic Conference also objects to what Culhane said is a double standard in the way the law treats private parties and government entities. State and local governments are protected from many kinds of legal actions by a doctrine called sovereign immunity. What that means, the Catholic Conference says, is that while a child abused by a teacher in a Catholic school can sue the school, a child abused by a public school teacher can’t.

“Anybody who abuses a minor should be held accountable — everyone,” said Culhane.

Legislators on the Judiciary Committee are considering a separate bill that would revoke sovereign immunity for the state and municipal governments in sexual crimes of children.