Lawsuits number 100-plus as window opens for sexual abuse survivors to sue

Erie County

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — As the clock struck midnight and August 14 began, attorneys across the state were working to file the first lawsuits allowed under the Child Victims Act.

In just the first few hours, 95 cases were filed in Erie County alone, most against the Buffalo Catholic Diocese. As the day wore on, the number of lawsuits reached 100, and kept going.

A handful of additional lawsuits were filed in the surrounding counties of Western New York, with most of those in Niagara County.

The Child Victims Act, which passed in February, allows a one-year look-back window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers, regardless of how old they were at the time of the abuse or how long ago the abuse happened.

The act itself was first introduced in 2006, and had passed the state Assembly six times, but had always stalled in the Senate. That changed with the balance of power in Albany, and the Child Victims Act was signed into law earlier this year.

Attorneys at HoganWillig say they started preparing these lawsuits back in 2015. At midnight, they had a team of attorneys and paralegals working to file the first 25 cases they plan to pursue.

“We believe that the survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and most importantly, our clients have waited long enough and the time is now to begin filing. No more waiting,” said attorney William Lorenz, Jr., the Child Victims Act Team case coordinator at HoganWillig.

Lorenz says the first wave of lawsuits are against the Buffalo Catholic Diocese, other diocese around the state, and other religious denominations, as well as individuals. He says his firm does have a case against someone within the Catholic Church who has not been publicly named by the Diocese at this point.

“The doors to the courtrooms have finally been opened and survivors of abuse now have the chance to hold the people that changed, and in many cases ruined their lives forever, to hold them accountable,” Lorenz said.

Some of the cases being filed by HoganWillig are being done under pseudonyms, at the request of the clients. Other clients, however, are using their real names and sharing their stories publicly.

David Harvey, a HoganWillig client who was at the law firm’s offices at midnight when the first cases were filed, said he was abused by a Catholic priest when he was eight years old. Now, he says he’s hopeful he can get a little closure.

“It is somewhat of a healing experience, but there’s nothing that’s going to give back to us what was taken away,” Harvey said. “I think part of the justice of this is holding the Buffalo Diocese accountable. They knowingly put people in parishes, one after another, knowing that they were raping and sexually abusing boys.”

Harvey says he was abused by a priest for the first time while on a boat trip with other boys. He says his abusers threatened to kill his twin brother if he told anyone.

Harvey says he developed into a very angry person, who withdrew from social relationships and battled drug addiction. He said he was in therapy three times a week for seven years.

Being among the first to sue his alleged abuser was an important moment for Harvey.

“I was eight years old and I’m 48 now. It’s 40 years of trauma that finally has a voice,” he said. “And I think above all, it’s respect. Respect for what we went through and finally someone’s listening to us.”

The act itself traces its origins locally, to a 1994 civil suit over alleged abuse at a West Seneca church in 1970. The suit was dropped due to the statute of limitations. Under the Child Victims Act, that statute of limitations is dropped until next August.

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