A newly enacted law will give certain Massachusetts victims of sexual abuse more time to bring claims against their abusers. The law, known as Chapter 145 of the Acts of 2014, permits children who are victims of sexual abuse to file their claims any time until they reach the age of 53. The Act, signed into law on June 26, 2014, allows a child who suffers sexual abuse while under the age of 18 to bring a claim against the abuser within 35 years of reaching his or her 18th birthday–or until age 53. The law amends G.L. c.260 s.4C, which previously required children to bring claims before they turned 21.
In addition, the statute preserves the “discovery rule,” a legal principle that delays the running of the statute of limitations until the victim learns or reasonably should learn that he or she has suffered harm related to the abuse. Previously three years from the date of discovery, the time limit has now been extended to seven years from discovery.
The new statute also adds a new section, G.L. c.260 s.4C1/2, that governs claims brought against entities or individuals who negligently supervised the abuser. The same extended time limits apply to those claims. The ability to sue these supervisors is often an essential part of financial recovery for victims, as many abusers are unable to pay a significant money judgment.
The law has already been invoked by one well-known plaintiff. Child tennis prodigy Heather Crowe Conner has recently filed suit against her former tennis coach, Bob Hewitt–just days before her 53rd birthday would bar the claim–alleging that he abused her during her teenage years.
The new law also affects claims against the Commonwealth and other Massachusetts governmental agencies, applying the same statute of limitations as for claims against private individuals. The law also dispenses with the usual presentment requirement for these claims, eliminating the need to give notice to the prospective defendant before filing a lawsuit.