ALBANY (TNS) — Following the 2019 launch of a year-long window for child victims of sexual abuse to file retroactive claims against their abusers or the institutions that harbored them, the state’s court system was flooded with 570 lawsuits within the first two weeks it went into effect.
But its successor law, the Adult Survivors Act, which sought to provide the same window for people aged 18 or older when their abuse occurred, has seen less than two dozen cases filed in the first two weeks, according to the state Office of Court Administration.
Of those cases, several target high-profile companies or individuals, including former President Donald J. Trump, music mogul Ahmet Ertegun and investor Leon Black.
In the past week, several more cases have been filed, including against Bill Cosby, the well-known comedian and actor who served time in prison for sexual assault convictions before being released last year.
The Cosby lawsuits, filed in state Supreme Court in New York City on Dec. 5, name both Cosby and notable movie studios as defendants: Kaufman Astoria Studios, NBCUniversal and the Casey-Werner Company.
Another lawsuit naming the Harvard Club of New York City and prominent director James Toback was also filed in Manhattan last week on behalf of at least 30 women, alleging that Toback “prowled the streets of New York City, targeting young women, including plaintiffs, to abuse (those) who were or wanted to be involved in the entertainment industry.”
Two more cases were filed in Onondaga County against Liberty Behavioral Management Group, which operates inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities across New York, including a clinic in Syracuse where the lawsuits allege employee Robert Rosolanko was able to engage in sexual manipulation of female patients.
Several cases have also been filed in the state’s Court of Claims, which handles civil litigation against state agencies. Anna Kull, an attorney with the firm Levy Konigsberg, said she has filed nine lawsuits on behalf of several “Jane Doe” plaintiffs who were formerly incarcerated at Bayview Correctional Facility, which permanently shut down a decade ago.
”Where’s the big influx? It’s coming,” said Kull, who is representing dozens of women who have said they were abused by correctional staff at Bayview.
Those lawsuits are targeting the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Another law firm, Slater Slater Schulman, is expected to file claims on behalf of another 750 former female inmates.
Attorneys who are handling the litigation said the dearth of cases is surprising but can largely be attributed to inopportune timing coinciding with the holidays — and the window suspending the statute of limitations went into effect on Thanksgiving.
It can also be explained by ongoing litigation and mediation involving the Child Victims Act, which has brought thousands of cases filed on behalf of individuals who alleged they were sexually abused as children. Many of the attorneys who specialize in sexual abuse litigation are tangled up with the Childs Victims Act cases, which are beginning to reach trial phase.
”My best guess is that this will pick up in January or February,” said Michael Balhousa, an attorney with Wilson Elser who is on the defense team for the Archdiocese of New York. “There’s no real sense of urgency because the window is open for one full year.”
Part of the difficulty with the Adult Survivors Act is that workplace abuse is a harder crime to prosecute when it comes to adults, lawyers said. The defense strategy for attorneys representing companies indicted in the lawsuits will likely focus on muddying accusations of abuse by painting them as consensual relationships, Balhousa said.
As to which companies can expect to be named in any future lawsuits for enabling a culture of sexual abuse or harassment: “That’s the million-dollar question,” Balhousa said.
It’s likely that high-profile financial institutions in New York City will have to defend the workplace culture most prominently shown in movies like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Balhousa said.
Patrice Griffin, who is suing a Brooklyn music studio for abuse that allegedly occurred over a period of time in the 1990s, said she has been disillusioned by the lags in her case, filed under the Child Victims Act.
She also qualifies to file a case under the Adult Survivors Act, which many plaintiffs are doing to maximize the chance of some sort of resolution, but said the process has been so painful that she does not have much hope for the new law.
”It’s re-traumatizing all over again,” Griffin said. “It would just be a waste of time.”