By Matthew Chayes
Three lawmakers who say they’d been abused as youths urged other New Yorkers with similar stories to come forward, as the legislators Tuesday promoted a new state law temporarily lifting the statute of limitations on suing alleged abusers and their enablers.
State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx) and Assembs. Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Brooklyn) and Yuh-Line Niou (D-Manhattan) each grew emotional during a Times Square news conference as they described the trauma of childhood abuse.
“I truly did think that I would go to my grave” with her story of abuse, Biaggi said at the event, which was about the Child Victims Act. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the act into law in February.
Said Bichotte: “God has somewhat found a way to give us strength.”
Starting Wednesday and lasting one year, the law opens a so-called look-back period allowing adults who say they were abused as children to sue in civil court, regardless of how long ago the conduct is alleged to have occurred. It also loosens other restrictions on, and procedures for handling, claims of abuse.
“The passing of this legislation is telling survivors like myself that our stories matter to our government — and that we count in the eyes of the law,” Niou said.
Organizations such as the Catholic Church had long opposed the legislation, arguing that the age of allegations hobbles their ability to defend themselves in court. The organizations have also said they are worried about the potential for crippling judgments that would put them in financial jeopardy.
The trio of lawmakers appears in ads about the law that are running in Times Square. The ads will also run on social media like Facebook, said Alexis Grenell, a spokeswoman for the victim services nonprofit Safe Horizon.
“We can now seek justice in the courts,” the ads say.
Seattle lawyer Jason Amala’s firm, Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, is helping file such lawsuits, starting Wednesday, on behalf of about 200 plaintiffs — including some from Long Island — alleging abuse within institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts, he said. There are additional lawsuits to come, he said.
“It’s historic, insofar as in this environment where society, I think, now is more accepting of the fact this was a pervasive problem for a long time,” Amala said in an interview.
He said only a few other states, including Washington and Hawaii, have passed similar laws, though the measures differ in addressing the statute of limitations.
The Manhattan-based law firm Weitz & Luxenberg also announced plans to file 400 cases on behalf of about 1,200 plaintiffs, beginning Wednesday, against churches, schools, hospitals and other organizations.
The legislation had been considered in Albany for more than a decade but always had been blocked by a Republican-led State Senate. It finally passed earlier this year after Democrats won control of the chamber.
The three lawmakers who spoke in Times Square Tuesday said that for various reasons, including personal preference, they don’t plan to sue.