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NSW Abuse Victims to have Unfair Agreements Reviewed After Statute of Limitations Reform

Historical 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, substance abuse and generally. Perpetrators convince a child that their abuse is a secret, and that creates a powerful barrier to disclosing it. Abuse may go unspoken for many decades before a person feels able to speak about it.

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 damages.

A recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse (which look at groups like the Catholic church, whose affiliated groups include the De La Salle Brothers, St John of God Brothers, Christian Brothers, Marist Brothers) was that limitation periods in historical sex abuse claims be removed. All states have now removed limitation periods for historical sex abuse claims.

However 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 schools, churches, scouts, 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. They 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 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 agreements for our clients in NSW, and all other states.

If you settled your case arising from historical 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. 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 either you or someone close to you would like to talk to one of our abuse specialists, for free and in confidence, about your legal options, please feel free to either fill out the form below with the best way and the best time to contact you, or you can call us on 02 9283 5599.

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