Anyone can be the target of an accusation or a lawsuit, whether deserved or not. Your wallet and your reputation are at risk. The danger is gravest in New York, where state lawmakers have turned their backs on the rights of the accused.
New York legislators are kowtowing to the #MeToo zealots and their trial lawyer allies, waiving the time limit that protects people from being sued decades later for a sexual offense that may — or may not — have occurred.
More than 3,000 lawsuits have been filed since the Adult Survivors Act went into effect in November 2022. Who's getting sued? Entertainers Jamie Foxx and Axl Rose, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, disgraced former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former President Donald Trump, as well as business titans, physicians, prison guards, employers and other ordinary people.
The new law opened a one-year window, which just closed on Thanksgiving Day, during which individuals who claim to be victims of sexual assault could sue their alleged abuser, no matter how long ago the abuse took place, if at all. The Adult Survivors Act waived the statute of limitations.
Now Albany lawmakers are talking about suspending the statute of limitations for another year, or forever. That would be a disaster.
When someone is accused of wrongdoing 20 years ago, it's impossible to remember details, assemble restaurant and hotel receipts, track down witnesses and prove innocence. Statutes of limitation have been a feature of American law since the nation's founding to ensure defendants can mount a defense.
Sexual abuse victims deserve justice. But the Adult Survivors Act is producing plenty of injustice.
"How do you expect people to remember details of something that happened or didn't happen?" asks Harvard Law Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz. New York lawmakers should restore the statute of limitations and limit it to five years.
Apparently, New York lawmakers don't care about defendants' rights. They're bending to political pressure from #MeToo, not to mention the plaintiffs bar that stands to rake in contingency fees.
"With the Adult Survivors Act, we are saying we believe you," New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. Sorry, that's not justice. That's tilting the scales. Why believe the plaintiff more than the defendant?
"Statutes of limitation only serve to protect the perpetrators," Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, D-N.Y., the law's sponsor, said. That's wacky. It's hard to believe people elected to make our laws say such things.
Not every defendant is guilty. That's for a court of law to decide.
Referring to the 3,000 suits filed, Hoylman-Sigal said, "There hasn't been a single verifiable false claim being brought forward." Preposterous.
Many lawsuits will be settled, but for those that go to trial, it will often be one person's word against another.
Axl Rose is accused by Sheila Kennedy, a Penthouse Pet of the Year, of raping her in 1989. "Simply put, this incident never happened," said Alan S. Gutman, Rose's attorney.
Eric Adams says the same about his accuser, who is asking for $5 million: "It did not happen."
The woman suing Jamie Foxx for allegedly putting his hand down her pants during a photo-op in 2015 is demanding anonymity. She told the court she doesn't want to "bear the stigma that is associated with being a sexual assault victim." What about reputational damage to Foxx?
It's likely some accusers are in it for the money. A spokesperson for Foxx said his accuser filed an almost identical lawsuit against him in 2020, but the case was dismissed. "The claims are no more viable now than they were then," the spokesperson said.
There are two circumstances when it is just to waive the statute of limitations, for children and prisoners.
In 2019, New York enacted a law — the Child Victims Act — allowing adults who had been sexually abused as children to sue. Children don't fully understand the abuse and can't hire a lawyer or file a police report themselves. Twenty-two other states have suspended the time limit for child victims. It's the right thing to do.
The other circumstance is prisoners. More than 750 women who say they were sexually abused while locked up have sued the state Department of Corrections and individual prison guards. These women could not have acted sooner. They were behind bars.
Aside from these two exceptions, statutes of limitations are necessary to ensure defendants get fair trials. The New York City Council should take note. In 2021, it enacted a law waiving the statute of limitations for lawsuits alleging gender-related violence. Big mistake.
New York lawmakers need a refresher course in the fundamental American principles that make all of us free. Tell them not to suspend the statute of limitations again.
Don't let #MeToo zealots take away your rights.
Betsy McCaughey, Ph.D., is the former Lieutenant Governor of New York State. Read Betsy McCaughey's Reports — Here Now.