In the year since a one-time window opened in New York State allowing people to file sex-abuse lawsuits even after the statute of limitations had expired, more than 3,000 civil suits have been filed. Before the deadline on Thanksgiving, a flurry of attention-grabbing suits were filed against politicians — like former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Eric Adams — and celebrities, like Sean Combs, the producer and music mogul, who had just settled a separate federal suit accusing him of rape. Hundreds of people have also — collectively and separately — sued institutions, including the state’s prisons, jails and prominent hospitals, for abuses they said were systematically ignored and hidden for decades. At least 479 suits contain charges of abuse at the Rikers Island jail, the New York Times reports. As the legislation to allow the civil suits, the Adult Survivors Act, approached its sunset date, the number of lawsuits filed steadily increased after a campaign to alert people to the deadline. The number of cases filed in State Supreme Court alone rose from 803 on Oct. 31 to 1,397 as of Nov. 22.
“The mission of the Adult Survivors Act, allowing survivors of sexual abuse the opportunity to speak their truth in court and seek redress, has been realized,” said Linda Rosenthal, a state assemblywoman who was one of the bill’s sponsors. Now, the focus is shifting to new legislation that could create another window for lawsuits or make permanent the ability to file civil lawsuits for sexual assault beyond the statute of limitations in New York State. In 2019, New York expanded the statute of limitations to 20 years for both civil and criminal cases involving some categories of sex crimes, like rape. Before, the limit was statute was just one year for civil cases. The expanded statue only covered cases going forward, not retroactively. The Adult Survivors Act, which passed in May 2022, was created to enable victims who were 18 or older at the time of the alleged abuse a one-time opportunity to file civil lawsuits against individual people or institutions, even when the statute of limitations had run out. They had a year, starting with Thanksgiving 2022. The state’s Child Victims Act included a one-year “look-back window” during which old childhood sex-abuse claims whose statute of limitations had expired could be revived.