New Jersey governor weighing extending statute of limitations for civil suits for child abuse victims

PHILLIPSBURG, N.J. (KYW Newsradio) — A bill on the governor’s desk in New Jersey would allow victims of sexual abuse when they were children a two-year window to file civil lawsuits, and one man who says he was victimized by a Catholic priest in Newark four decades ago is hopeful that Phil Murphy will sign the measure.

Jorge Zapata’s attacker is dead, but the 50-year-old father of five who lives in Phillipsburg, Warren County hopes to take action against the Archdiocese of Newark and others.

He leans a lot on his family for support.

“It’s still not easy talking to them and trying to explain to them what I have to go through, to talk about it or deal with it inside my head,” Zapata told KYW Newsradio.

The general statute of limitations on civil cases for sexual abuse would be extended from two to seven years under the bill, with child victims able to file until age 55 or seven years after they became aware of the assault to file, whichever is later.

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Zapata says there will never be closure for him, even if he goes to court and wins. But allowing that two-year window of opportunity will help others who find themselves in the same position he’s been in since the late 1970s.

“I want them to come out and say ‘It wasn’t my fault what happened to me when I was a kid’”, he added. “‘It wasn’t my fault. It was that person’s fault because they knew what they were doing’”.

A spokesman for Murphy says the bill is being reviewed by the governor’s legal staff. It passed this week in both the Assembly and State Senate with almost unanimous support.

New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses are offering independent out-of-court settlements to victims, but this bill would give them the option to taking their cases before a judge and jury. 

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