• March 7, 2013

All lawyers learns this legal maxim early on in their legal education.  What makes particular cases “hard”?  What makes them particularly hazardous springboards for change in the law?  These are not easy questions and there is no single answer.

But I would suggest that where certain conduct in society once invisible becomes visible, where acts once broadly ignored or denied as a social ill are later acknowledged as widespread and horrible, particularly if this change in perspective is relatively abrupt, these instances of “societal disconnect,” present the law with challenges.

How do we, in today’s society, remedy long-standing and repugnant conduct from years gone by, conduct from earlier times when the conduct was so unspeakable that victims could not come forward and confront the people who preyed on them?  Into this category, we can, of course, put child sexual abuse.

Minnesota courts have been grappling with this issue for years now.  (See here and here, for example.)  Now, we learn for “our man on capitol hill,” Bryan Lake, that the Minnesota Legislature is considering removing the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse for victims who were abused before the age of 18.

To discuss this proposed legislation is a stretch for Minnesota Litigator.  Litigators deal with laws, not proposed laws.  Litigators are “officers of the court,” meaning they are pieces on the judicial chess board and not players in the legislative game.  As a civil litigator, maybe I should be reluctant to take any position on any policy matters.  Someone else does the dirty work of drafting and passing legislation.  Litigators’ work comes later, in trying to understand what the legislation means when applied later to later facts.

Nevertheless, I simply raise the question...NO statute of limitation?  I also note that the proposed statute broadens liability not only against the perpetrator but also any “corporation, organization, or other entity that is a cause of the plaintiff’s damages.

Unless I am missing something, the effect would be that every organization in the state of Minnesota that has cared for kids (schools, camps, hospitals, religious organizations, clubs, etc., etc.) over the past 50+ years would be fair game for any accusers going back for decades for alleged wrongful acts against children in their care by any teacher, counselor, leader, care-giver, or other employee over that entire period of time.

We all should recognize the terrible harm done to victims of child sexual abuse during the many decades when the wrong was so unspeakable that vindication or compensation was out of the question for many if not most victims.  On the other hand, how far back in dark history do we want to go?  What imposition of costs on our court system and, more broadly, on today’s society is just too great?

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