New state law gives sexual assault, abuse victims more time to seek justice

January 29, 2020 | 10:21 am


The new year brings with it a new law in California allowing victims of childhood sexual assault more time to file lawsuits, and seek justice.

Assembly Bill 218 gives victims of childhood sexual abuse either until age 40 or five years from discovery of the abuse to file civil lawsuits. The previous limit had been 26, or within three years from discovery of the abuse. It also allows victims of all ages three years to bring claims that would have otherwise been barred due to existing statutes.

“Abuse victims are grateful to get a shot at justice through this new law without a stringent time limit,” said managing partner and attorney David Cohn, who has represented many victims of sexual abuse through his work at the Law Office of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “It’s important for victims to come forward when they are ready, and ultimately protect our community from future abuse, and obtain accountability.”

Specifically, the new law is a game-changer for childhood victims because it changes how survivors are treated and supported.

In recent years, allegations of sexual abuse have been voiced by victims and conveyed through media reports from Olympic teams, school children, Boy Scouts, and Catholic churchgoers, with media highlighted such allegations. We’ve seen an uprising of women (and men, too) who have gone public with their stories of sexual harassment, assault and abuse, and systemic sexism, particularly in the world of Hollywood.

In fact, the California Catholic Conference in a statement to media described sexual abuse by members of the clergy as a “legacy of shame.”

“It is a legacy of shame for all of us in the Church, and we are aware that nothing can undo the violence done to victim-survivors or restore the innocence and trust that was taken from them,” the statement read. “Ultimately, our hope is that all victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse in all institutional settings will be able to have their pain and suffering addressed and resolved and so our prayers are that AB 218 will be a step forward in that direction.”

California is at least the third state this year to pass such a law, according to reports. Earlier this year, New York and New Jersey raised their statutes of limitations to age 55. New York also suspended its statute of limitations for one year, leading to hundreds of lawsuits against hospitals, schools, the Roman Catholic Church and the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.

“This law puts powerful institutions like the Catholic hierarchy, public schools and sports leagues on notice that they cannot allow predators to molest children, cover up their crimes and escape responsibility,” said Matt Clark, senior partner and attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been involved in several lawsuits in recent years in representing victims of sexual abuse and sex assault:

  • Our attorneys filed lawsuits in federal court against the County of Kern and a juvenile corrections officer on behalf of a young woman who were sexually abused at juvenile hall.
  • Our lawyers also filed claims on behalf of several students who were victims of sexual misconduct at North High School. Kern County Sheriff’s Office has arrested Edwin Rodriguez on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment.
  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented Karen Frye, who was sexually molested at Lerdo Jail by a Kern County Sheriff’s Department detentions deputy. The law firm filed suit against the county for civil rights violations, conspiracy, sexual assault and battery, negligence, fraud, breach of contract and excessive use of force. The department also attempted to “buy off” Frye by offering her $1,500 in exchange for her agreement to not sue the department. That case settled for $300,000.
  • We represented a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison. Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys also represented a 79-year-old woman who called the sheriff’s office during a dispute with her husband, who was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s. She, too, was sexually assaulted by Lopez in a similar fashion to his other victims. The third victim was quietly paid $5,000 by the department, and was unable to bring a civil claim.

In addition, the partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles penned a “Community Voices” article, calling on the County of Kern to cease practices that call for confidential settlements in lawsuits pertaining to victims of sexual assault, as well as paying “hush money” to those victims.

Here’s what you can do if you’ve been sexually assaulted or abused:

  • Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. This can be difficult to do, but the sooner you get in touch with someone, the sooner justice can be served.
  • See a doctor: Seek immediate medical care following a rape or sexual abuse scenario. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations and they often have someone on staff that can help with the stress.
  • Contact an attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a legal professional, who has understanding of sexual abuse law.

———

If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, or sexually abused or assaulted by someone in authority, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys advocate for client rights in 2015 Justice Day

May 27, 2015 | 10:23 am


In an effort protect the civil justice system and defend the rights of their clients, along with meeting with California legislators and key members of staff in their Capitol offices, two attorneys with the Bakersfield-based law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles took part recently in the 2015 Justice Day in Sacramento.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles associates Neil Gehlawat and Chad Boyles attended the annual Justice Day earlier this month as part of Consumer Attorneys of California, where the aim is to meet the men and women who shape our laws, and to press the case for civil justice.

This year, Neil Gehlawat is chairman of the Education Committee for the CAOC New Lawyers Division, and Chad Boyles is the Central Valley Regional chairman for the CAOC New Lawyers Division. The New Lawyers Division, Consumer Attorneys of California is a professional organization made up of attorneys who represent plaintiffs seeking accountability from those who do wrong.

“As trial lawyers, we act as watchdogs and fight for the rights of Californians injured, harmed, or whose civil rights are violated,” Gehlawat said.

Added Boyles: “Through California laws, we can hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Justice Day included several seminars that included “Water Rights and the Civil Justice System” and “Conversation with Erin Brockovich.” But the heart and soul of Justice Day is to have an impact on Capitol lawmakers.

The CAOC attorneys and advocates explained what trial lawyers do for society, the merits of the contingency fee system in helping the underdog seek justice and the importance of our civil courts, according to CAOC.

Gehlawat, Boyles and other CAOC members met with Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), a legislative aide for Senator Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield), Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), and Assemblyman Henry Perea (D-Fresno).

In meetings with the legislators , they focused on three main issues:

  • Assembly Bill 465 (Hernandez): This bill, which has passed, fixes a persistent problem where employers often include “forced arbitration” as a condition of employment, resulting in workers being fired or not hired if they don’t give up rights to resolve disputes in court. This measure ensures worker consent if forced arbitration is a provision of employment.
  • Senate Bill 482 (Lara): This is a measure that will save lives, and requires doctors to check the existing statewide prescription drug database to curb doctor-shopping by addicts and the explosion of prescription drug abuse, our nation’s worst drug epidemic. UPDATE: This bill passed on May 28.
  • Court Budgets: After more than $1 billion in budget cuts during the Great Recession, our courts remain underfunded and understaffed. California Gov. Jerry Brown has authorized some funding increases in recent years, but California still have a long ways to go. Fewer courtrooms mean reduced access to justice, and more delays. And justice delayed, is justice denied.

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, Gehlawat and Boyles focus on personal injury and civil rights cases that include wrongful death, police misconduct, elder abuse, and more. If you are ever injured at the fault of another, contact them at 661-323-4000 or visit the law firm’s website at chainlaw.com.

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *