Lawmakers Discuss Child Sex Abuse Cases and the Statute of Limitations

Feb 10, 2015

House lawmakers are discussing a measure surrounding child sex abuse cases and the statute of limitations in South Dakota. 

In 2010 the South Dakota legislature passed a law tightening the statute of limitations for childhood sex abuse claims. Child sex abuse victims who are 40 years or older can no longer bring civil law suits against their alleged perpetrators. Represented Steve Hickey of Sioux Falls says the 2010 law had unintended consequences. He says many lawsuits that were in court during the passage of the law were thrown out because the courts applied the statute retroactively. Hickey has brought a measure that would allow those victims to bring those cases back to court.

Barbara Dahlen and her nine sisters say they were sexually abused by clergy at the Blue Cloud Abbey in eastern South Dakota during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Dahlen says their civil case was thrown out after the legislature passed the 2010 law. She says their case should be vetted and decided in court not by the legislature.

"I ask you today to allow our voices to be heard so social justice can be determined," says Dahlen.

The 2010 law affected other cases similar to Dahlen’s. Representative Steve Hickey says his bill could impact around 67 cases involving church officials of native boarding schools in South Dakota.

Opponents say House Bill 1163 could open up the door for frivolous claims. Mike Shaw is a lobbyist for Property Causality Insurers Association of America. He says the statute of limitations is necessary to insure a fair trial for both sides.

"After 40 years memories fade. Memories may be gone. Folks move, witnesses, die, it makes it very, very, very difficult to bring a lawsuit and to defend a lawsuit," says Shaw.

The House Judiciary committee deferred action on House Bill 1163  until a later date.

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