Maryland Legislation Repealing Statute of Limitations for Civil Suits Based on Child Sexual Abuse Signed Into Law

Venable LLP

Venable LLP

Yesterday, Governor Wes Moore signed into law the Child Victims Act of 2023, which permits survivors of child sexual abuse to file a civil lawsuit at any time, repealing both the current statute of limitations and the statute of repose (laws that establish when civil claims are time-barred and can no longer be initiated). Maryland is now the sixteenth state to repeal its statute of limitations for civil child abuse claims, making it easier for survivors of child sexual abuse to bring civil suits based on abuse that occurred decades earlier.

Pursuant to a 2017 amendment to the statute of limitations, survivors of child sexual abuse were previously able to file a civil suit until they were 38 years old, unless the abuse occurred prior to the passage of the 2017 amendment, in which case they could file a civil suit until they were 21 years old. The Child Victims Act of 2023 entirely eliminates these statutes of limitations, allowing survivors to file a civil suit arising from allegations of child sexual abuse at any time.

In repealing the statute of repose, which bars claims from being filed that have expired under previous statutes of limitations, the Child Victims Act of 2023 creates an unlimited lookback period and revives claims that were previously time-barred. This unlimited lookback period is unique among states that have recently amended their child abuse laws. Some states, such as New York and New Jersey, created limited lookback periods (one or two years), during which survivors of child sex abuse are able to file claims that were previously time-barred. Maryland is the first state to pass a lookback period of indefinite duration.

Finally, the Child Victims Act of 2023 also increases the statutory cap on civil damages for child sexual abuse. Under the law, damages against public school boards and government entities are capped at $890,000, while damages against private institutions, including independent schools, are capped at $1.5 million. The damages cap applies to each incident of abuse.

Independent schools should expect that the constitutionality of the Act's repeal of the statute of repose will be the subject of litigation after the bill is passed. Such a court challenge will take time and could delay the October 1, 2023 effective date of the Child Victims Act of 2023, giving schools time to plan and prepare before child abuse cases brought under the law may be heard in Maryland courts.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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