Legislation to extend the statute of limitations for Georgians who were sexually abused as children to sue their abusers years later as adults advanced in the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Sponsored by Georgia Rep. Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, the bill would extend the deadline for victims to bring suits against their childhood abusers to age 52, a steep increase from age 23 under current state law.
The bill would let victims sue their alleged abusers up to a year after realizing that past abuse has led to present-day trauma. Research shows adults often tend to recognize the impacts of childhood sex abuse decades after it happened.
Controversially, the bill would also give victims a four-year window to sue public and private organizations like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America for harboring predators on staff who abused them as children.
Under the bill, which passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously, victims would have to prove with “clear and convincing” evidence those organizations both knew about the abuse and let it happen under their watch.
Lawsuits could only be brought if the abuse happened since July 1, 1973, marking the year in Georgia law when organizations were first required to report abuse allegations among staff.
Trial attorneys have warned opening the lawsuit window for victims up to decades after their abuse could open a floodgate of litigation in Georgia, noting hundreds of suits were filed in New York shortly after that state passed a similar statute-of-limitations extension in 2019.
Representatives from the Boy Scouts and Catholic Church, which have both been rocked by child sex-abuse scandals in recent years, also previously opposed the bill on grounds that litigation could expose their organizations to huge legal fees.
Clark’s bill now heads to the full House for a vote. It resembles a statute-of-limitations measure he filed on childhood sexual abuse that stalled in last year’s legislative session, which was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.