GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Survivors of sexual assault would have decades to sue for damages if a sprawling set of bills overhauling Michigan’s statute of limitations becomes law.
It’s an effort to give survivors more time to come forward and seek damages in civil court for their abuse.
The “Access to Justice” plan, a set of nine bills (HB 4482-90) led by Rep. Julie Brixie, D-Meridian Township, would significantly extend the civil statute of limitations for sexual assault cases.
The legislation has been introduced multiple times but went nowhere in previous sessions. Lawmakers are hoping now is the time to get it done.
“I think we see instances where a survivor of an assault has experienced deep trauma and they might not reach a point where they’re comfortable to come forward with an issue like this until many years after,” said Sen. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo.
McCann is waiting to see what the final legislation looks like before revealing his position. But in an interview with News 8, he said he believes it sends an important message.
“It’s very important to us that we believe survivors and that survivors have ample opportunity to process the trauma but also then do something about what happened to them,” McCann said.
Currently, survivors can only pursue civil action until they turn 28. But many survivors of child sex abuse don’t come forward until later in their lives. Child USA, a nonprofit aimed to protect children from abuse, studied more than a thousand survivors in 2020 and found the average age they reported abuse was 52.
Under this legislation, survivors would have until their 52nd birthday to sue for damages.
“Michigan is behind as it relates to the ability to bring a complaint like this forward before the time runs out,” McCann said.
The statute of limitations would extend until a survivor’s 52nd birthday, 10 years after the assault or seven years after discovering the impact of their abuse, whichever comes latest.
Survivors whose cases have already expired would get a new opportunity to sue with a two-year window to file the lawsuit. If there’s a criminal conviction in the case, the civil statute of limitations would be eliminated entirely, and the civil action could be taken at any time.
“This is really a way to give people more time with a very difficult issue and still have the window be open to deal with that in the civil courts if they choose to,” McCann said.
Another bill in the package would eliminate the governmental immunity defense in some sexual assault cases. According to the legislation, that would apply if the government knew the perpetrator had previously committed a criminal sexual conduct offense and failed to do anything about it.
The legislation has bipartisan support. Sen. John Damoose, R-Harbor Springs, is working on a similar package in the Senate which has not been introduced yet.
“This absolutely should not be a partisan issue,” Damoose said. “There is nothing in progressive thought or conservative thought that condones this type of action.”
It’s unclear if the Senate version will propose the same changes as the House package. The House version has been referred to the House Criminal Justice Committee.