New Jersey’s Child Sexual Abuse Act (CSAA) requires that any claim for sexual abuse be filed within 2 years after “reasonable discovery” of the injury and its causal connection to the alleged molestation. Such an inquiry is necessarily fact intensive, focusing on not only the victim’s recollection of the sexual abuse but the time that he connects any ensuing injury with the abuse.
Given the horror of sexual abuse and the legislative response in enacting the CSAA, courts have liberally applied the statute’s protections. In R.L. v. Voytac, the Appellate Division was faced with a situtation where the plaintiff filed an action against his former stepfather 14 years after the last act of abuse. The alleged abuser successfully argued before the motion court that the statute began to tick when the plaintiff had flashbacks about his abuse while engaging in sexual acts with his girlfriend 5 years earlier. Afterwards, the plaintiff recounted these memories to his mother who suggested counselling and told him “there was no way this hasn’t affected [you].” Despite this advice, plaintiff did not seek counselling and continued on a downward psychological spiral. In contrast, the plaintiff argued that he did not make the connection between his psychological problems and the abuse until several years later “when a lightbulb” went off while confiding his troubles to a coworker.
Relying on the remedial nature of the CSAA and the difficulties inherent in claims of sexuxal abuse, the Appellate Division reinstated plaintiff’s claims. The panel emphasized that the victim must have a “conscious awareness” not only of the abuse, but of the abuse’s relationship to the injuries and symptoms experienced by the plaintiff. The end result: summary judgment for the defendant reversed and the case reinstated.
In balancing the equities of a plaintiff seeking redress for injuries inflicted on him as a minor versus the right of a defendant to have timely access to proof of innocence, the child’s interests will frequently trump the alleged abuser’s. And that result should be no surprise to any litigant, litigator or insurer where the claim involves the sexual abuse of a minor.