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No more statute of limitations in civil child sex abuse cases in Washington

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(The Center Square) – A bill that removes the statute of limitations for civil claims on child sexual abuse has been signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Rep. Darya Farivar, D-Seattle, sponsored HB 1618.

“We all know that sexual abuse is underreported and that often, people don’t come forward for fear of retaliation or fear it won’t be taken seriously, or because of having to relive that incredible trauma,” he said. “We also know that trauma significantly impacts how our brains work and it can take time for someone to speak their truth and seek that justice.”

Amid debate, Courtney Butler, a concerned citizen, told members of the Law and Justice Committee about the abuse she endured as a teen.

“At the age of sixteen, I was sadistically raped by a coach while I was playing soccer at a Thurston County club. After that happened, I replaced the love of a sport I had played since the age of 5, with shame, self-hatred and depression.”

She told lawmakers she began cutting herself and still looks at the scars on her hands from self-harm.

“Shortly after that, I discovered drugs and it was my outlet, it made me feel nothing, it made me not care about anyone or anything,” she said. “When my statute of limitations ran out, I was in deep addiction and after another woman came forward from the same soccer club but a different coach, I swore that day I would kill myself, rather than come forward and tell my story.”

“To this day I still scream in the middle of the night and have night terrors over what happened to me,” said Butler who settled her case in 2022.

Her attorney, Darrell Cochran with the Washington State Association for Justice told lawmakers when they initially filed suit against the soccer club, “Their insurance and attorneys immediately tried to have the case dismissed because of the statute of limitations.”

He explained how in 1991 Washington lawmakers passed a law removing the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, but he said that law has slowly been eroded because trial courts were given a great deal of opportunity for interpretation of the law.

Cary Silverman with the American Tort Reform Association testified against the bill.

“The bill’s complete abandonment of the statute of limitation is unprecedented and while some may see statutes of limitation as arbitrary, they are critical,” he said.

Silverman said he was concerned about this bill opening the door for a flood of legal action going back decades.

“Never before to our knowledge has the state of Washington completely eliminated a statute of limitations for civil action,” Silverman said. “There may be no doubt that a plaintiff experienced horrific abuse, but the question may be difficult or impossible to answer when the perpetrator is dead, the staff at the time is gone, the records haven’t been saved.”

As signed into law, the measure is not retroactive.

Language in the bill reads in part:

There shall be no time limit for bringing any claims or causes of action based on intentional conduct brought by any person for recovery of damages for injury suffered as a result of childhood sexual abuse when the act of childhood sexual abuse occurs on or after June 6, 2024.

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