Changes in NSW Allowing Overturning of Deeds
A statute of limitations, or limitation period, is an idea the law developed to ensure that people acted quickly to bring claims for damages and also that when claims were brought the evidence needed to prove them was still around.
Once a limitation period expires, a person’s rights may be extinguished, or at least there be a further barrier to them bringing a claim for historical damages.
Historical child sexual abuse claims, by their very nature, were greatly disadvantaged by statutes of limitations. Sexual and serious physical abuse is often something that a person cannot or does not wish to disclose.
Mental ill health causes difficulties with work, relationships, and substance abuse, and often, a perpetrator will convince a child that their abuse is a secret, creating a powerful barrier to disclosure. Child sexual abuse may go unspoken about for many decades before a person feels the courage to come forward with the dark horrors of their past.
A recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse which looked at groups like the Catholic church, whose affiliated groups include
was that limitation periods in historical sex abuse claims be removed. All States have now removed limitation periods for historical sex abuse claims.
However, child sexual abuse victims who brought their cases before 2016 up to as late as 2019 were still subject to a limitation period because the law had not been changed. Those pre-2016 victims suffered the unfairness and indignity of negotiating with institutional perpetrators – like
- Scouts groups,
- St John Ambulance
and other organisations – where the law imposed a barrier to their claim. Those people typically chose to take far less than the proper value of their claim because of the barrier that the limitation period imposed.
Institutional child sexual abuse survivors signed agreements (deeds) that said their claim was over in exchange for very small settlements.
Further developments in the law have seen most States create new laws to allow victims who settled their cases pre-2016 to set aside agreements they reached with institutions that took advantage of them and used the limitation period to force them into a small settlement.
NSW is one of the last states to introduce such laws.
On 21 October 2021, the Civil Liability Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill passed the upper house.
In the coming months, victims & survivors who settled historical abuse claims in NSW pre-2016 will be able to have their agreements reviewed by Courts to assess whether they were unfairly small.
Koffels has already commenced looking at such potentially unfair compensation agreements for our clients in NSW and all other States.
If you settled your case arising from historical child abuse and were told it was subject to a limitation period, you are probably able to re-open it and seek proper compensation for your injuries, be they sexual, physical or emotional. That is an opportunity that may just be worth taking if you are left with a nagging doubt that you weren’t paid enough the first time around.
If you or someone you know would like to talk to one of our historical sexual abuse specialists, for free and in confidence, about your legal options, please feel free to either complete the form below with the best way and the best time to contact you, or you can call us on 02 9283 5599.