TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would amend the State’s charitable immunity clause to allow sexual assault victims to sue charitable organizations when the organization negligently hired or retained in their employment a sexual predator, will be considered on Monday by the Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee.
“When an organization threatens a child’s physical safety or psychological welfare by placing the child in an unsafe environment, that organization must be held liable,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “For too long, charitable groups have shrugged off their responsibility under charitable immunity edicts to ensure child safety, and in the meantime, they’ve harbored vicious sexual predators who have done so much damage to their victims. We need to have a higher standard when the safety of our kids is at risk.”
The bill, S-540, would allow victims of sexual assault, who were abused while under the care of a charitable organization, to bring lawsuits against the organization if it can be shown that the organization acted with neglect in regards to hiring and retaining employees with histories of criminal activity or sexual deviancy. The organizations would also be liable for cases of abuse that fall within New Jersey’s statute of limitations for sexual abuse lawsuits, meaning that children who were abused but have not reached the age of maturity, which is set at age 20 by State statute, can bring a lawsuit against a charitable organization.
“The bill applies retroactively to cases still within the statute of limitations so that we can protect children today, not just ensure child safety in the near future after the bill is signed into law,” said Senator Vitale. “If we were only to apply the enhanced child protections under the bill prospectively, we’d be leaving out a large segment of the population which is suffering from the abuses sustained at the hands of predators right now. I cannot, in good conscience, simply write off the mistakes of the past, when those mistakes have resulted in the scarring for a lifetime of abuse victims.”
The bill was approved by the Senate in May, and if it is approved by the Assembly committee, will then go before the full General Assembly for final legislative approval, before going to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.