Adult Survivors Act Look-Back Window Closes While Legislators Signal Efforts to Reopen

By Michael J. Williams, Esq.

On November 23, 2023, New York’s Adult Survivors Act’s lookback window, which provided a one-year opportunity for survivors to bring civil actions previously barred by the statute of limitations, closed.  During this one-year period, adult survivors were permitted file a civil suit based on a wide range of abusive actions prohibited by the Penal Law’s Article 130, including such acts as forcible touching and without regard to the statute of limitations. 

Over 3,000 lawsuits were filed during this window of opportunity, hundreds of them during the last weeks before the window closed.  High-profile defendants such as former Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Eric Abrams and producer and musician Sean Combs were named in these lawsuits.  Other celebrities named in these lawsuits included former president Donald Trump and comedian Bill Cosby.  The Adult Survivors Act cases further named lesser-known individuals, their supervisors and employer institutions such as prominent hospitals, correctional facilities, and Rockefeller University.  

Taking one example of the Adult Survivors Act’s impact on an institution, earlier this month Columbia University began notifying 6,500 former patients of a gynecologist employee, now a convicted sex offender, and established a $100 million settlement fund for its employee’s victims.  This followed Columbia settling with more than 200 former patients for $236 million.  At least one lawsuit naming more than 300 plaintiffs was filed under the Adult Survivors Act as well. 

Similarly, a New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical center urologist presently faces charges that exposes his employer to liability.  In terms of public institutions, at least 479 lawsuits charge abuse at Rikers Island.  Institutional employers of all types are under intense scrutiny for their employees’ misconduct before, during and after the Adult Survivors Act.  Further, for institutions in New York City, the Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Law remains open for victims of gender-related assault. 

Critically for institutions such as universities, hospitals, government entities, churches and businesses of all types with supervisory authority over their employees, wards and charges, the legislature is already preparing to reopen and expand the Adult Survivors Act window or to terminate the statute of limitations for these claims permanently.  Senate sponsor Brad Hoylman-Sigal, Assemblywoman sponsor Linda Rosenthal and Will Barclay, minority leader in the Assembly, who also supported the legislation, have spoken publicly about expanding the window or making it permanent when the legislative session resumes in January. 

While every institution must be prepared to protect against sexual assault within the environment it now controls, it must also proactively prepare for litigation involving employee actors from decades ago.  Preparation requires complex planning regarding document retention and insurance archaeology, knowing whether abuse in the workplace involves the workers compensation system or the courts, understanding when a successor institution is liable for acts occurring under a predecessor institution’s watch and even federal issues such as when the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 gives an employee the option to litigate rather than arbitrate.  Preparation now places institutions in their best possible posture for future challenges.  


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