California Supreme Court Considers Whether to Allow Adult Victims of Child Sex Abuse to Sue Third Parties that Knew But Failed to Act

December 31, 1969

The state's highest court is considering whether parties that knew a child was being sexually abused yet failed to do anything to stop the incidents can be sued by the now-adult victims. Should the court rule yes, Roman Catholic dioceses could find themselves the defendants in more California clergy abuse complaints.

The case involves six brothers, who are now in their 50's and 40's. They claim that a priest sexually abused them during the 1970's but that it wasn't until 2006 that they realized that the distress they continue to experience was a result of molestations.

A lower court that heard the sibling's California child sex abuse case issued a finding that adult victims had flexible legal deadlines for suing third parties who knew about the sex abuse as it was happening. At today's hearing, however, several members of California Supreme Court expressed concern with this finding. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye expressed worry that victims were depending on "vague language" in a law so they could bypass legal deadlines.

The California Supreme Court's ruling, which is due in 90 days, will likely affect dozen of California child sex abuse cases against clergy members.

"Victims of sex abuse often must contend with a lifetime of trauma from what happened to them, said Howard Law PC founder and Anaheim sex abuse attorney Vincent Howard. "It is unfortunate that the Catholic Church did not do more to stop molesters from continuing to abuse other kids."

While legal limits are supposed to prevent plaintiffs from file civil complaints based on events that happened long ago, the California Legislature has, on several occasions, extended such limits for child abuse lawsuits. In 2003, it established a one-year window for people that otherwise wouldn't have been able to sue schools, churches, and employers that knowingly protected the alleged abusers because too much time had already passed.

In this California sex abuse case, the Oakland Diocese is arguing that the brothers cannot sue them now because they didn't file their complaint during the one-year window and due to a (now abolished) provision that lets plaintiffs who were still younger than 26 pursue recovery from the abuser's employer. All of the brothers were over the age of 26 when they sued.

However, their California personal injury lawyers claim that both limits don't apply to these plaintiffs because certain amendments adopted in the '90's gave victims three years from when they discovered that their problems are a result of sex abuse to go to court. Although a trial judge threw out their case because of the statute of limitations, an appeals court agreed with the plaintiffs in 2009. Also, the brothers contend that they didn't link their personal challenges to the sex abuse until Broderson submitted a sword deposition in 2005. They filed their California sex abuse lawsuit the following year.

The priest accused of abusing the brothers, Donald Broderson, is now dead. He retired in the early 90's because of multiple abuse allegations. He has admitted to molesting at least two of the brothers and a number of other children. When the boys' parents complained about the abuse to church superiors, Broderson was made to go to counseling and transferred to other parishes.

"You want to work with an Orange County, California personal injury law firm that is familiar with sex abuse and the devastation it can create in the victim's life," said Anaheim injury attorney Vincent Howard.

CA Court Mulls Window for Old Clergy Abuse Claims, AP/ABC, January 6, 2012

Court studies limits to suing third parties in child molestations, Los Angeles Times, January 5, 2012

To schedule your case evaluation with Orange County, California sex abuse lawyer Vincent Howard, contact Howard Law, PC today.