A Louisiana law was supposed to make it easier to prosecute victims of abuse. It needs to be fixed.
Louisiana Legislature Seeks to Fix a law created last year this was supposed to make it easier for victims of abuse to sue institutions like the Catholic Church. Instead, he could have imposed unintended restrictions on the very litigation he was supposed to help.
The Louisiana House voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of House Bill 402by Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, which seeks to clarify that victims of child abuse — regardless of their current age — should have the ability to sue for their abuse through 2024.
“This bill is only intended to clarify legislative intent. I’m not trying to extend anything. I’m not trying to add anything,” Hughes said.
Lawmakers say the bill has been pushed back behind closed doors by insurance companies from the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America and other institutions over the years. They could have to pay more claims to victims of abuse if the law is passed.
In 2021, lawmakers voted unanimously to remove the time limit for filing child abuse lawsuits, exposing the Catholic Church and others to more claims. Before last year, a victim of child abuse had to file a lawsuit before the age of 28.
Last year’s new law also established a three-year “look-back window” which was supposed to allow any adult victim of child sexual abuse to take legal action by mid-2024 if they had missed the opportunity to do so under the previous law. Lawmakers said it was intended to give older victims who did not deal with their abuse until later in life a chance to obtain compensation.
Yet over the past year, the Catholic Church has repeatedly argued in Louisiana courts that some of the claims made under the lookback window are invalid because the window only applies to the abuses that have occurred over the past 29 years. Lawyers for the church said last year’s law was restrictive because it referred to an older law regarding child abuse that was not enacted until 1993.
Judges have had different responses to this argument, according to lawyers representing abuse victims who are suing the Catholic Church.
Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Nakisha Ervin-Knott dismissed a lawsuit filed against New Orleans Jesuit High School because the alleged abuse occurred before 1993, Roger Stetter said , the lawyer handling the case for the victim, in an interview.
Judge Laurie Hulin, of the Lafayette 15th Judicial District Court, came to the opposite conclusion. She rejected the Catholic Church’s argument that the law only applies to claims that date back to 1993. Instead, Hulin ruled in favor of an alleged victim who claimed her abuse had took place in 1961 or 1962 and should be able to continue using the retrospective window that the lawmakers setup.
In the same lawsuit, Hulin also rejected another argument by the Catholic Church that lawmakers only intended to allow lawsuits against individuals, such as priests, and not institutions like the Catholic Church.
The law passed last year lacks a reference to the state’s children’s code that would allow lawsuits against the church more broadly, Gilbert Dozier, an attorney for the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette, wrote in a legal brief related to the case. ‘affair. Dozier is appealing Hulin’s decision to the state Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Hughes’ legislation would insert language into the 2021 law that Dozier says is missing and remove ambiguity about the 1993 limitation, he said.
Several legislators have also disagreed with the Catholic Church’s interpretation of their intentions. Senator Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said lawmakers assumed Hughes’ bill last year would allow any alleged victim, regardless of when the abuse took place, to sue the Church Catholic, Boy Scouts or any other organization during the retrospective period.
“I think the obvious intent of the window was for all victims to have their day in court,” Henry said.
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