New Calif. law gives child sexual abuse victims more time to report

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A new law signed Sunday by California Gov. Gavin Newsom removes a significant legal hurdle for victims of disgraced USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and paves the way for potentially thousands of other child sex abuse victims within the state to hold their abusers and any institutions that enabled them accountable in civil court.

The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, extends the statute of limitations to age 40 (the previous limit had been 26) or within three years from the discovery of the sexual abuse. It also creates a three-year window for child sex abuse victims of any age to file civil lawsuits.

"The idea that someone who is assaulted as a child can actually run out of time to report that abuse is outrageous," said Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the author of Assembly Bill 218.

About a dozen survivors of Nassar, who have pending civil lawsuits in California against Nassar, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, stand to benefit from the new legislation, according to their Irvine, California-based attorney, John Manly.

"I think this bill, which had bipartisan support, reflects the public's outrage at the conduct of youth sports organizations, schools and churches, many of which have concealed pedophilic crimes for years," said Manly, whose firm represents, among others, Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Jordyn Wieber and Kyla Ross.

Two of Manly's clients, Jamie Dantzscher, a bronze medalist from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and Jeanette Antolin, a Team USA member from 1995 to 2000, were in their mid-30s at the time they filed civil lawsuits alleging Nassar sexually assaulted them under the guise of medical care.

The passage of Assembly Bill 218 removes any legal defense that Dantzscher's and Antolin's claims are outside of the statute of limitations.

"It would have been devastating to not be able to get justice," Dantzscher told ESPN on Tuesday. "I know it's going to protect a lot of us currently but it's also going to protect a lot of kids in the future."

"It takes a lot of courage to step forward. To even pick up the phone and call a lawyer, it took me close to three months," Antolin told ESPN. "Extending the statute of limitations is really important because it takes a really long time and maturity to feel like you want to do something about it," she added.

Antolin and Dantzscher are among a group of Nassar survivors who, for the past few years, have lobbied both the California legislature and Congress for laws more favorable to child sex abuse victims.

"It makes me feel like some of the work I've been doing hasn't been for nothing. There's definitely a lot of healing when these changes are seen," Dantzscher said.

The new California law has implications far beyond the Nassar case.

Robert Allard, an attorney in San Jose, California, represents at least 10 clients who have alleged they were sexually abused by four coaches sanctioned by USA Swimming.

"We can prove that USA Swimming covered up for them," Allard said of the coaches.

That could prove significant because Assembly Bill 218 allows child sex abuse victims to seek what's known as "treble damages," triple the amount of damages in civil cases in which plaintiffs can prove an organization covered up sexual abuse.

"The California legislature has sent the message loud and clear that if you turn a blind eye to sexual molestation of children entrusted to your care and take action serving to protect or cover up for known predators under your control and supervision, you will dearly pay the price," Allard said.

Similar legislation passed both the California House and Senate in 2013 and 2014, only to be vetoed by former California Gov. Jerry Brown, largely due, Allard says, to public pressure from the Catholic Church. In the past, the California School Boards Association, Boy Scouts of America, USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics have all opposed passage of the legislation.

The Orange County Register reported that in 2017 USA Gymnastics spent nearly $22,000 and, in 2013 and 2014, USA Swimming paid a Sacramento firm $77,627 to lobby against reforms to the state's child sex abuse laws.

"When our sports national governing bodies, whose members are overwhelmingly children, are paying thousands to lobby against the same child abuse bill the Catholic bishops are paying to lobby against, it's time to get rid of that sports governing body," Manly said.

USA Gymnastics did not respond to a request for comment.

California has lifted the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases before. In 2003, the legislature created a yearlong window for child sex abuse victims of any age to file civil lawsuits. The result, Manly says, was approximately 1,000 civil cases, with the majority filed against the Catholic Church.

"Currently we have over 125 clients who have asked us to represent them when the law goes into effect," Manly said. He estimates as many as 5,000 child sex abuse victims could bring civil lawsuits in California once the law goes on the books Jan. 1.

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 Catholic Church and the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.

The Associated Press contributed to this report