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Court studies limits to suing third parties in child molestations

January 5, 2012 |  1:47 pm

The California Supreme Court appeared reluctant Thursday to permit adult victims of child molestation to sue others who knew of the abuse and failed to stop it  decades after it occurred.

During a hearing, several members of the state high court expressed skepticism with a lower court’s finding that gave adult victims flexible legal deadlines for suing third parties who were aware of the molestation at the time. 

The court is considering a lawsuit against the Catholic Church by several brothers who were in their 40s when they said they first discovered they were suffering the effects of abuse by a priest decades earlier. The plaintiffs argued that the law gives victims three years to sue after they realize the abuse caused their psychological troubles.

But Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said she was concerned that the  victims were relying on “vague language” in a state law to get around legal deadlines.

“We don’t read vague language to revive lapsed claims,” Cantil-Sakauye said.

Irwin M. Zalkin,  an attorney for the brothers, said they did not realize until 2006 that the molestations that occurred during the 1970s were responsible for their mental health troubles.

“These are people whose lives suffered,” Zalkin said. “They have struggled in ways you can’t imagine.”

The court's ruling, due in 90 days, is expected to affect dozens of child molestation suits against the clergy.


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-- Maura Dolan in San Francisco