Legislation that would end the statute of limitations for lawsuits against entities that are accused of negligence involving incidents of child sexual abuse overwhelmingly passed the Maryland Senate last week.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. William C. Smith, D-Montgomery, passed the Senate in a 42-5 vote. The proposed legislation was sent to the House of Delegates, where it has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. The House has already passed a version of the same bill.
The Maryland Catholic Conference criticized the bill for its unequal treatment of private groups, Crux reported. The legislation creates a different set of rules for public entities than it does for private entities.
The legislation would fully eliminate the statute of limitations for a victim to file a lawsuit related to child sexual abuse against private and public entities. The proposed bill would cap the amount of money that victims could receive but at different levels, depending on whether the lawsuit is filed against a private or a public entity.
A victim who sues a public entity, such as a public school, could be awarded up to $890,000, according to the proposed legislation. However, a victim who sues a private entity, such as a Catholic Church, could be awarded up to $1.5 million, which is nearly 70% more than public entities.
The legislation would also be retroactive, which means victims could file lawsuits against entities even if the current statute of limitations has already passed. The current statute of limitations for suing entities is seven years from the day before the victim’s 18th birthday. For lawsuits against direct offenders, the statute of limitations is 20 years after the person turns 18.
“These bills treat public and private institutions differently by setting a lower ceiling on how much a public school board, for example, could be sued compared to a private institution such as a parish or nonpublic school,” the Maryland Catholic Conference told Crux. “This creates two classes of survivors and greatly increases the financial harm to the Church and its ministries.”
In the email to the news outlet, the conference also criticized the unlimited window.
“The draconian provision of an unlimited window for currently time-barred civil cases to be filed, regardless of when they occurred, is nearly unprecedented among similar laws passed in other states,” the email read.
Similar rules in other states have financially damaged dioceses throughout the country over abuse allegations that span a half of a century or more. Last week, the Diocese of Albany filed for bankruptcy after settling more than 50 lawsuits, some of which date back to the 1970s. The Diocese of Oakland may need to declare bankruptcy for similar reasons.
And last week a Maryland judge approved the release of the attorney general’s sexual abuse investigation into the Diocese of Baltimore. This investigation spans 80 years.