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Bill would give 16-17 year old sexual crime victims to age 55 to file civil suits


Florida state Rep. Michael Gottlieb has pre-filed a 2020 bill that would give 16 and 17-year-olds the same civil statute of limitations (SOL) waiver provided minors to file lawsuits against perpetrators decades after the crime occurred.

Under House Bill 53, victims younger than 18 at the time of the incident can initiate a civil suit anytime “on or before the victim reaches the age of 55.”

“We’re living in a time now where we have a lot of these valid #MeToo claims,” Gottlieb, D-Plantation, told Florida Politics. “For years, I’m not just going to say women – people, women, whomever – didn’t have the opportunity in civil court to get compensation and to have their voice heard.”

Florida is one of 45 states and Washington, D.C., that do not have criminal SOLs for victims who were under 18 to file 1st degree sexual battery charges against alleged perpetrators.

In 2010, Florida became one of 10 states without civil SOLs for victims under 16 of sexual battery offenses to file lawsuits. The SOL waiver only applies to crimes that occurred after the law went into effect.

Gottlieb’s proposed bill would allow those who were 16 and 17 when the alleged sexual crime occurred to also file civil claims decades later.

Right now, under Florida law, anyone who was between 16 and 18 when the alleged sexual crime occurred has seven years after turning 18 years old to file lawsuits against a perpetrator who was charged or convicted of the crime.

Under the state’s “delayed discovery rule,” a victim – who could be an adult under certain circumstances – also has four years after “leaving the dependency of the abuser” or “four years from the time of the discovery of both the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the abuse” to file a civil claim.

Gottlieb told Florida Politics the bill is a first draft and could change as it progresses through committee reviews once the 2020 session begins on Jan. 14.

Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. revised statute of limit laws in 2019 to allow victims of child sexual crimes more time – sometimes decades – to file criminal charges against alleged perpetrators, according to the Children USA, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that tracks and lobbies for child abuse/neglect legislation.

In addition, 20 states and D.C. this year relaxed, or did away with, SOLs in civil child sexual offense cases to extend timelines for victims to file lawsuits against individual perpetrators, as well as against private organizations and government agencies deemed negligently liable.

Seven states – most notably, New York – relaxed civil statute of limitations in 2019 to open “windows” to allow child victims of sexual offenses to file lawsuits.

HB 53 does not offer such a “window” and would apply only to alleged sexual abuses against 16- and 17-year-olds if the law goes into effect on July 1, 2020.

Gottlieb’s proposal is one of several 2020 pre-filed bills related to SOLs for sexual crimes, including SB 170, sponsored by Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, which would eliminate the criminal SOL for 2nd and 3rd degree felony sexual battery of minors.

Stewart filed a 2019 bill seeking to eliminate the criminal SOL for 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree felony sexual battery, regardless of victim’s age.

Stewart’s bill failed during the session, as did Rep. Adam Hattersley’s, D-Riverview, “Me Too No More Act,” which would have removed the SOL for all victims of such crimes and HB 83, sponsored by Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Delray Beach, which would have extended the criminal SOL for first and second-degree felony sexual battery of a victim age 16 or older to age of majority plus 15 years.