The Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that a lookback window established in 2021 to give child abuse survivors more time to file lawsuits is constitutional. The Court reversed an earlier decision in its June 12 ruling. In March, the state Supreme Court found the lookback window law unconstitutional because it violated due process laws. That finding was a blow to child sex abuse survivors and advocates, who argued that it prevented victims from seeking the justice they deserved. The latest announcement upholding the lookback law is good news for survivors of child sex abuse who haven’t yet filed Louisiana sex abuse lawsuits against their alleged abusers.

Herman Herman Katz partner Soren Gisleson wrote the rehearing application, the post-rehearing briefing, and orally argued before the Court this year. Gisleson and his litigation partners have fought to uphold the constitutionality of the window since the law was passed in 2021. Within the last few weeks, the Louisiana Legislature extended the period to file expired sex abuse lawsuits until June 14, 2027.

Louisiana Lookback Window Law

It’s a common misconception that victims of child sex abuse will report the crime immediately. In reality, it takes decades for many sex abuse survivors to come forward — if they do so at all. In response to these statistics, many jurisdictions have enacted lookback window laws specifically designed to allow victims more time to sue their abusers and the institutions that shielded them from accountability. In 2021, former Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards signed Act 322, the first version of its lookback law. The legislation gave victims three years to file lawsuits, regardless of when the abuse first occurred. The average victim of child sex abuse waits until they are 52 years old to disclose what they experienced, so the lookback window created an opportunity for countless survivors. Previously, a victim could only sue until they turned 28 years old. The lookback window created by the 2021 law was set to expire earlier this month, but the Louisiana Legislature unanimously voted to extend it through June 14, 2027, giving victims even more time to seek justice.

The lookback law faced objections from the start. After the initial version was passed, attorneys for some of the institutions facing lawsuits and insurance companies argued that it only applied to sex crimes that occurred after 1993 due to the wording of a statute that the law referenced. In response, lawmakers passed Act 386, which solidified that victims could pursue lawsuits regardless of when the abuse occurred. 

In recent years, several religious institutions have faced a high volume of lawsuits from survivors who say they failed to protect them from abuse. In 2020, the Archdiocese of New Orleans filed for bankruptcy protection because it faced so many lawsuits. The proceedings are still ongoing. 

Court Challenges

In Sam Doe vs. The Diocese of Lafayette, an unidentified man sued the diocese after alleging that Fr. Stanley Begnaud, an ordained priest, assaulted him when he was 16 years old. There’s evidence that the diocese labeled Begnaud a “known pedophile” but never removed him from his role. He died in 1985 without facing accountability for his alleged abusive actions. The diocese responded by challenging the lawsuit, which Herman Herman Katz filed in 2020. The diocese claimed that the claim was “prescribed,” meaning the plaintiff didn’t sue in time. A trial court found that Doe’s lawsuit could proceed under the lookback law; the diocese appealed the ruling. The appeals court agreed with the trial court’s findings.

In March, the Louisiana Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments about the lookback window law in another case Bienvenu v. Diocese of Lafayette, and ruled that the law was unconstitutional. Two dozen states have found similar laws constitutional, so the decision surprised many legal experts. The initial ruling was met with public outcry and opposition from elected officials, and the Court agreed to rehear the case. It is rare for the Supreme Court to reverse a decision, but it overturned its ruling earlier this month. Chief Justice John Weimer wrote in the decision, “For many victims of child sexual abuse, the revival provision represents their first and only opportunity to bring suit. Providing that opportunity to those victims is a legitimate legislative purpose.” 

For the hundreds of sex abuse survivors who thought they’d lost their chance to file lawsuits after the Supreme Court’s first decision, the updated ruling is an advantage. 

Finding A Louisiana Sex Abuse Attorney

If you’re a survivor of child sex abuse considering a lawsuit against an abuser or an institution that failed to protect you, you’ll need a lawyer familiar with Louisiana law who has experience with these cases. The Louisiana sex abuse attorneys at Herman Herman Katz and their partners led the way for the Louisiana Supreme Court case and currently represent more survivors in the New Orleans archdiocese case than any other firm. We fiercely advocate for victims of child sex abuse across the state of Louisiana to receive the justice they deserve. While no amount of money can undo the harm you experienced, compensation can help pay for therapy costs and the other expenses that arise from trauma while signaling to institutions that they won’t get away with protecting abusers. It’s crucial to file a lawsuit before the lookback window ends. Call us at 844-943-7626 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. 

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