Salt Lake City, Utah — The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Monday to give a favorable recommendation to proposed legislation that would eliminate the statute of limitations on civil actions related to child sexual abuse.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, sponsor of HB277, told committee members that child sexual abuse is “heinous. It’s murdering the spirit of the child.”
When a child is molested, society and the victims themselves pay the price in terms of health care costs, mental health treatment, lost wages and productivity.
“In this case, we make sure that cost is borne by the perpetrator,” he said.
Although Utah’s criminal statutes have been changed to acknowledge that many victims of child sexual abuse are not equipped to face their accusers until an average of 20 years later, Utah’s civil statute of limitations has lagged behind, Ivory said.
Under existing Utah law, a person who discovers childhood sexual abuse after age 18 has four years to file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator.
Passage of HB277 would permit victims of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits at any time by eliminating the statute of limitations.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said the proposed change in state law means an adult could conceivably file a lawsuit decades after an alleged incident occurred.
King said he understands that it can take “a long time for people to work through the trauma associated with this kind of thing, (but) I am concerned about putting defendants in a difficult situation trying to defend these kinds of things.”
Ivory said in civil cases, plaintiffs bear the burden of proof. The passage of time may make it more difficult for plaintiffs to prove their cases.
Yet it takes many victims years to be able to face their perpetrators, he said, so civil statutes needs to take that into account.
King agreed. “I think we need to provide greater remedies for people who have been damaged by the actions of others,” he said.