Catholic Church, Boy Scouts, Rockefeller University Among First To Be Sued Under Child Victims Act

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The first lawsuits have been filed under New York’s Child Victims Act.

The long-awaited legislation took effect at midnight, opening a one-year window for victims to file claims against their abusers and the institutions that protected them, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.

Within minutes of that deadline, the New York Post reports more than 100 lawsuits were filed in 11 of New York's 62 counties.

The Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America and Rockefeller University are among the first to be sued.

Forty-five plaintiffs who claim they were abused by pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Reginald Archibald have sued the hospital. Archibald, who died in 2007, is accused of molesting hundreds of child patients for 30 years.

Jennifer Araoz, who says she was raped by deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein when she was a teenager, has sued his estate and associates, including his former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell and three unnamed members of his staff.

Araoz says Epstein raped her in his Upper East side Mansion on East 71st Street. She then dropped out of a specialized high school and moved to one closer to home in Queens out of fear she’d run into Epstein or his associates.

Araoz’s attorney Kimberly Lerner says Epstein robbed her client a chance of seeing the multimillionaire carted off to jail for the rest of his life. They are now suing his estate under the Child Victims Act.

Michael Polenberg with the victims advocacy group Safe Horizons expects hundreds, if not thousands, more claims before the day is done.

"Any institution that covered up child sex abuse, that failed to protect children, they are now gonna be held accountable,” Polenberg said.

Attorney Jeff Anderson notes that time is not being wasted now that the opportunity to seek justice has been awarded.

“Across the state as of this morning, our firms have filed 252 cases against the Catholic bishops across the state of New York. This is the journey that just begins,” he said.

Alleged victim Joseph Caramano is among those who have filed lawsuits. He says that while he could have proceeded as John Doe, he chose to use his name and speak about the alleged abuse he suffered at the hands of a priest while in high school on Staten Island.

“That was a very dark time in my life – 16, 17-years-old – it was very dark, and this is that light. This is the light. Today's the day of the light, today's the day of the truth,” he told reporters.

Anderson says he has added 60 names to his list of alleged perpetrators and has identified over 162 members of the clergy accused of abuse.

In a statement released Wednesday, Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said the Catholic Church will stand with alleged victims.

“Today we stand with victims who were sexually abused as children. We have reached this point because too many victims all across society have sadly carried this heavy cross for far too long. Sexual abuse is a heinous crime and victim-survivors now have a new avenue to seek redress through the Child Victims Act,” he said.

To those who were abused by clergy members or volunteers, he offered apologies and noted the Brooklyn Diocese has “instituted the most aggressive policies to prevent any future abuse and to protect children.”

The church gave up their decade-long fight against the so-called "look back window," when the Democrats took over the state legislature.

One of those lawmakers is Brooklyn Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte.

She said, "I am a survivor, who was sexually abused at the age of 10 by a pastor. Now, there's a path for retribution."

New York Archdiocese spokesperson Joe Zwilling said they have been preparing. They filed suit against more than two dozen insurance companies to compel them to cover what could be thousands of abuse claims.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan issued a video statement on Twitter saying, "It is a tough time, it is a dark time, it's especially difficult for our beloved victims and their families to see all this dug up again, to have these wounds reopen, it's a tough time for our victims, survivors and families and I ask you to pray for them."

The archdiocese says it will carefully review the claims. The church also urges people to consider the archdiocese's independent reconciliation and compenstation program. 

New York's public schools have also been sued. New York City District #17 in Brooklyn is named in one of the lawsuits. A woman claims she was physically and sexually abused by her teacher when she was 9 years old.

A group of attorneys filing the suits are also calling on all New York public schools and school districts to follow the lead of the Archdiocese of New York which released a list of credibly accused clergy. 

The same attorneys represented plaintiffs in a $140 million settlement againts the Los Angeles School District — the largest child abuse settlement against a school district in the country. They also represent more than 180 alleged victims of former Michigan State University and U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Olympic team Dr. Larry Nassar. 

In a statement to WCBS 880, the Department of Education said, “The safety of our students is our top priority, and there is zero tolerance for any abuse of students. Every survivor deserves to be heard, and we have clear policies to ensure any allegation is immediately reported, investigated, and addressed." 

The Child Victims Act also extends the state's statute of limitations for criminal child sexual abuse cases. Victims, who previously had until the age of 25, now have until the age of 28 to seek a felony indictment. The statute of limitations for civil cases is until the victim turns 55, up from the previous age of just 23.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation into law in February.

"Child sexual abuse is a real epidemic. It's been in the corners and in the shadows, but it is much more widespread than people want to admit," Cuomo stated Wednesday. "The Child Victims Act says if you were sexually abused as a child, you have a right to justice and to make your case. Children have legal rights, and if you abuse a child, you're going to have your day in court and you're going to be called to answer for it."