A state House committee has recently expanded on a child sex abuse bill that would allow a victim to sue for potentially limitless damages from school districts, as well as governmental and private institutions. With these controversial amendments, government entities would be exposed to large liability awards due to losing certain facets of sovereign immunity. Fears regarding the death of the bill stems from a similar situation. That similar bill, also controversial, had died.
This fear is also brought on by similar bill that was attempted in Colorado that would have exposed government institutions to lawsuits – an attempt that was met by strong opposition from the school board association, which ultimately led to its failure.
The vote to remove the cap on damages that can be collected in lawsuits against government entities was seen as a self-destructive tactic by advocates of child sex abuse victims’ rights. Last year’s legislative battle did not raise the issue of capped public civil lawsuits. The bill had ultimately died over a different controversial provision that intended to allow adult victims the opportunity to sue private institutions for instances of abuse that occurred decades prior.
The recent amendment eliminates most of the public entity’s shield that last year’s legislation established. That legislation would have permitted lawsuits in situations of “gross negligence,” whereas the recent amendment reduces threshold to sue a public entity to simply “negligence”. This, along with the House’s controversial decision to remove liability limits, leaves more institutions exposed to potential lawsuits, whereas last years’ bill offered significantly more protection.
Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, opposed the amendment based on the argument that the removal of these caps would ultimately be unfair to taxpayers. He was quoted saying, “I think we should concentrate on going after the perpetrators and make them as accountable as humanly possible[…]the highest offense, the most egregious act that someone could commit, is these types of things, and I think they should be held personally accountable, not the taxpayer.”
On the other hand, Joseph Petrarca, D-Westmoreland, sponsors the cap amendment based on the argument that it’s a move that would stop the behavior of sexual predators, saying “the intent of this amendment is to make a level playing field…what we’re trying to do is stop this behavior of what’s going on with sexual predators.”
The bill passed the committee in a 22 to 5 vote and is expected to reach the House floor. Sex abuse victim advocates intend to fight for language that would allow adult victims to sue for incidents that happened to them in the past.
The abuse of our children and the vulnerable happens everyday. Responsible adults can prevent this from happening. If you or someone you care about has been the victim of abuse, call The Law Office of Mark A. Smith for a compassionate and free evaluation of your case.