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When Can Families Sue Religious Institutions for Sexual Abuse in New Jersey?

July 10, 2020 | Posted In Sexual Assault

For families whose children are victims of sexual abuse by clergy members, and for adults who were abused as children, New Jersey law provides a clear right to seek financial compensation from the church. In fact, last year the New Jersey legislature passed a law that extends the statute of limitations for clergy sexual abuse claims. Under the new law:

  • For situations in which the statute of limitations has previously expired, victims and families have until December 2021 to file a claim.
  • In all other situations, victims and their families have until seven years after they discover injuries caused by sexual abuse to file a claim, or until the child reaches age 55, whichever is later.

There are Two Main Ways in Which Religious Institutions Can Be Held Liable for Clergy Sexual Abuse

New Jersey law also makes clear that churches can be held civilly liable for their priests’ and other clergy members’ unlawful acts in many cases. This is based on two distinct theories of liability:

1. Vicarious Liability

Under the law of vicarious liability, employers are civilly liable for the acts of their employees undertaken within the scope of their employment. Just as trucking companies can be held liable for accidents caused by drivers who are drunk (and therefore violating the law), religious institutions can be held liable for sexual abuse committed by members of their clergy. While a priest or other clergy member may not be classified as an “employee” in all cases, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) takes the position that, “[a] licensed, commissioned, or ordained minister is generally the common law employee of the church, denomination, sect, or organization that employs him or her to provide ministerial services.”

2. Direct Liability

In many cases, churches will also be directly liable for clergy members’ sexual abuse. Direct liability is based on the negligent or other wrongful acts of the church itself, rather than the church’s position as the clergy member’s employer. Potential grounds for pursuing direct liability claims for clergy sexual abuse include:

  • Negligent Hiring – If the church failed to conduct an adequate background check prior to hiring a priest or other clergy member, this can provide grounds for pursuing a claim against the church for clergy sexual abuse.
  • Inadequate Security – If the church failed to implement adequate security measures to prevent sexual assaults on its premises, this too could form the basis for a civil liability claim.
  • Covering Up Past Instances of Sexual Abuse – If the churched hired a priest or other clergy member knowing that he had previously sexually assaulted a child and chose to cover up this information, this can also provide grounds for filing a civil lawsuit.

Speak with a New Jersey Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawyer in Confidence

If you would like to speak with an attorney about filing a clergy sexual abuse lawsuit against a religious institution in New Jersey, we invite you to contact us for a free initial consultation. To speak with one of our experienced attorneys in complete confidence, call 877-435-6371 or inquire online today.

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Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A.

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