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Court Ruling Allows Abuse Victim to Sue

A Hunterdon County law firm obtained what could be an important victory for victims of childhood sex abuse.

Kearns Rotolo Law of Lebanon represented a man whose suit in Morris County was dismissed as being untimely, but that dismissal was reversed on appeal.

Under New Jersey law, victims must file suit within two years of “reasonable discovery of the injury and its causal relationship to the act of sexual abuse.”

In the Morris County case, the victim claims he was molested by his stepfather between 1987 and 1990, when he was 10 to 12 years old.  He did not file suit until 14 years after the abuse ended.  However, it wasn’t until February 2002 that he connected his depression, cross-dressing and gender confusion with the abuse he suffered as a child.  Up until that time, he thought these feelings and conduct were a reflection of his belief that he was “supposed to be born a girl,” according to the court opinion.

The lower court dismissed his complaint, saying that he realized he had a problem in 1999, when during an intimate moment wit his girlfriend the victim had a “flashback” about the abuse.  The lower court ruled that the statute of limitations ended in 2001.  After the flashback he told his mother about the abuse but, according to the appeals court opinion, he still did not see the relationship between the abuse and his other problems at that time.

It was not until 2002, when the victim confided in a co-worker about his problems, that she asked if he had been sexually abused as a child.  After that question the victim finally made the connection; the appeals court ruled that moment was when “reasonable discovery” was made and therefore the suit he filed in 2004 was filed in a timely manner and was remanded back for trial.

The case could set precedent for similar cases in New Jersey.

Attorney Victor Rotolo, who represents the victim, said it was the first time such a case had gone on to a hearing.  He said the appeals decision is important because it provides guidance to victims on how to proceed.  “The effects of sexual abuse can be so devastating,” he said.  It takes great courage to file a lawsuit, he said.

Hunterdon County Democrat
September 11, 2008
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