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Understanding California’s New AB 218 Law and What it Means for Thousands of Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

California AB 218

If you live in California, you’ve likely heard of AB 218, a bill that was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom and took effect on January 1. The bill impacts survivors of childhood sexual abuse by extending the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit against abusers. By increasing the period of time one has to pursue legal action, the bill provides survivors who would have previously been left without recourse against abusers with a newfound opportunity to obtain justice via a civil lawsuit.

In addition to an extended statute of limitations, AB 218 enacts a number of additional changes to California law. Let’s take a look at those specific changes including who is considered eligible to file a child sexual abuse lawsuit under the new bill.

Who is eligible to file a lawsuit?

Any childhood victim of sexual abuse who is 40 years old or younger is automatically eligible to file a lawsuit. Prior to AB 218, the law limited eligibility to survivors who were 26 years old or younger.

Do survivors over 40 have any options under the new bill?

Yes. Part of what makes AB 218 such a landmark piece of legislation is its specific feature referred to as the three-year “lookback window” that pertains to previously time-barred claims. The lookback window option effectively provides virtually any victim of childhood sexual abuse with the ability to file a civil lawsuit against their individual predator or at-fault institution at any point over the next three years (from now until 2023). It’s a blanket window which began on January 1 and applies to any childhood sexual abuse case, regardless of how long ago the crime occurred.

Additional aspects of AB 218 to consider:

In addition to the lookback window option, AB 218 allows for a five-year statute of limitations on the discovery of an adulthood psychological injury that is the result of childhood sexual abuse. As an example, if a survivor was abused at age 10 but is now 45-years-old and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they have five years from the date of diagnosis to file a lawsuit.

This is an increase of two years from legislation prior to AB 218 that stipulated such psychological injuries identified in adulthood had to be claimed in a lawsuit within three years of the discovery or diagnosis. Though this may seem like an aspect of the bill that is somewhat less significant than the lookback window, etc., psychological professionals applaud the inclusion of the measure given that identifying and diagnosing such psychological trauma often occurs decades after the instance of abuse. It is quite common for a survivor’s psychological injury to manifest years after the abuse has taken place.

AB 218 amends the definition of childhood sexual abuse:

Another aspect of AB 218 is that it amends and broadens the definition of childhood sexual abuse. AB 218 stipulates that the terminology within the law is to be more broadly defined as “childhood sexual assault.” This will essentially allow for all sex crimes to be prosecuted — whether they are a matter of abuse or assault.

How the AB 218 legislation targets institutional abuse and cover ups:

A primary focal point of AB 218 is to successfully prosecute sexual abuse crimes that may have been part of a systematic cover up (whether by individuals or institutions). As such, the new legislation allows survivors to be entitled to triple the damages in instances where a cover up occurred. The goal of this particular aspect of the bill is said to be an effort to send a clear message to predators that such acts are considered not merely heinous, but also intolerable in the state of California.

A summary of the changes in the law under California’s AB 218:

  • Increases the age limit to file a lawsuit for victims of childhood sexual assault from 26 to 40.
  • Provides a three-year “lookback window” on claims which previously fell outside the statute of limitations.
  • Extends the civil lawsuit filing deadline from three to five years for those who recently discovered that a psychological injury or illness manifesting in adulthood was in fact the result of sexual abuse endured as a child.
  • Expands the definition of childhood sexual abuse to be referred to as “childhood sexual assault.”
  • If a cover-up was involved, AB 218 provides courts with the latitude to force defendants to pay up to three times the amount of actual damages to a plaintiff.

The new bill has been hailed as an unquestionably positive step forward in prosecuting childhood sexual abuse cases. Given that it expands eligibility for so many survivors (with current estimates being in the tens of thousands), personal injury attorneys anticipate a surge in related cases.

For survivors who wish to proceed with legal action in an effort to obtain justice, it is recommended that they seek out a personal injury attorney who specializes in prosecuting sex crimes. Moreover, given the amount of cases that are anticipated to result from the new laws under AB 218, personal injury attorneys advise survivors to file their claim as soon as possible.