On June 20, 2023, the Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Aurora Public Schools and David James O’Neill v. A.S. and B.S., Supreme Court Case No. 22SC824, which impacts civil cases and claims brought pursuant to the recently-adopted Colorado Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act (the “Act”). The Act creates a cause of action for victims of claimed sexual misconduct that occurred during their participation in youth-related activities in Colorado while they were minors. It allows victims to file civil claims for damages against both the abuser and the organization responsible for the activity, under the condition that the organization knew or should have known about the risk of sexual misconduct. The Act establishes a three-year window for victims to bring claims for alleged child sexual abuse that occurred between 1960 and 2022, regardless of previous time limitations barring such claims. Furthermore, it waives governmental immunity for claims under the Act. The Act defines a youth-related activity or program to include activities, services, trips, or events where adults have the trust of the children they supervise. An organization may be liable for abuse during a youth program, educational program, or religious activity. For non-governmental actors, the Act caps the amount recoverable at $500,000; however, there are exceptions that permit recovery of up to $1 Million.
Last week, the Colorado Supreme Court reviewed a district court decision involving the constitutionality of the Act. The Colorado Supreme Court determined that the Act violated the Colorado Constitution’s retrospectivity clause, as it introduced a new cause of action for past conduct that was previously time-barred. While acknowledging the severe harm caused by sexual abuse, the Court emphasized the importance of achieving legislative goals through constitutional means. The Act’s provision that attached liability to past conduct created new obligations, rendering it unconstitutional. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case.
Hall & Evans, LLC defends both governmental entities and non-governmental organizations in these and other cases. For more information about the Act or this new Colorado Supreme Court Opinion, please feel free to contact Ryan L. Winter. A special thanks to Summer Associate Chandler Helvey for assisting with this legal update.