Time running out for abuse victims’ lawsuits The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Time running out for abuse victims’ lawsuits

December 27th, 2020 Mesa Tribune Staff
Time running out for abuse victims’ lawsuits
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By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

Time is quickly running out for many who were sexually assaulted or abused years ago as children to try to get some justice from perpetrators or those who allowed it to occur.

An Arizona law approved last year scrapped existing statutes that required victims to sue before the 20th birthday or forfeit their legal rights. Now they have until age 30.

That portion of the law is permanent.

What is not is a temporary legal window that legislators agreed to open for those whose time to file suit already had expired. They have only until the end of this year to file their claims.

But even with the new opportunity it won’t be easy.

To get the necessary votes, proponents of the change had to agree to some curbs that could make proving the case more difficult.

First, those in this second category have to prove their claims by “clear and convincing evidence’’ –  a higher standard than “preponderance of the evidence,’’ the balancing test used by jurors now to determine whether it’s more likely than not that the incident occurred.

Any lawsuit in that group against a church or organization also must provide proof that someone in authority not only knew about the abuse but either did nothing or deliberately covered it up.

And anyone bringing one of these older cases can seek only actual damages. They could not collect punitive damages designed to both punish an individual or organization for outrageous acts.

That issue of money was so divisive that it hung up not just the legislation but also the $11.8 billion state budget as Sens. Paul Boyer R-Phoenix, and Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, refused to provide the necessary votes until they got a change in the law they believe will help victims and provide a financial incentive to organizations to weed out the predators in their midst.

But that limit was necessary to bring foes onboard the plan.

For example, Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, said the legislation was being pushed by trial lawyers anxious to collect legal fees. And he said that providing more time to sue doesn’t help victims as no amount of money can compensate them for what they endured.

Much of the push came from Bridie Farrell, a former speed skating champion who came to Phoenix to testify about how, at age 15, she was sexually assaulted by a much older silver Olympic medalist while at a training facility. She said it took her years to come to terms with what happened to her.

Farrell said the ability to pursue not just those who committed the abuse but those who knew is critical.

“Survivors don’t want to take down the LDS church or the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts or, in my case, the United States Olympic Committee,’’ she told those at the signing ceremony.

“We want to ensure that no child has to go through what we went through,’’ Farrell said. “And that’s all this has been about from the very beginning.’’

In the end, even Gov. Doug Ducey found the issue so important he agreed to a signing ceremony at the Capitol less than 24 hours after the final compromise was unanimously approved.

“This we know: Victims need time, time to process, time to understand what has happened and to come forward,’’ he said. “And they deserve the ability to come forward.’’

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