Over the last few years, a large number of states have passed new laws eliminating or significantly expanding their statute of limitations on sexual abuse lawsuits. So far, however, Maryland has not joined this movement to make it easier for sex abuse victims to sue. Recent investigations uncovering sexual abuse at one of Baltimore’s leading private schools might help change this.
Investigation Uncovers Sexual Abuse at the Gilman School
Founded in 1897, the Gilman School is one of the oldest and most prestigious private schools in the Baltimore Region. For decades Gilman has enjoyed a relatively pristine reputation. Last summer, however, the school announced that it was conducting its own private investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Gilman employees.
The results of this investigation were finally released last week and they shockingly confirmed that 2 former Gilman School employees sexually abused students over several decades. The investigation report concluded that former Gilman employees Dr. Martin Meloy and Thomas Offut had sexually assaulted at least 20 different students during their time at the school.
The sexual abuse of students occurred over a 40-year period. Neither of the alleged abusers (one of which is now deceased) was ever formally charged. The administration at Gilman was fully aware of the allegations but failed to inform parents or the public. Instead, the school contacted the Baltimore County State’s Attorney about the allegations against Dr. Meloy. The State’s Attorney’s office advised that there was not enough evidence to bring charges. Dr. Meloy was dismissed, but the school presented it as early retirement.
Gilman is the second prominent private school in Maryland to recently announce findings of sexual abuse of students by staff members. In 2019, an investigation into similar allegations at the Key School in Annapolis concluded that at least 10 staff members at the school engaged in sexual misconduct with students over a 20 year period.
Maryland Legislature Considering New Laws to Make Sexual Abuse Lawsuits Easier
The shocking results of the investigations at Gilman and the Key School come as the Maryland state legislature is currently considering a new law that would make it much easier for victims of childhood sexual abuse to bring civil lawsuits. The new law could potentially eliminate any statute of limitations for Maryland sexual abuse lawsuits against individuals or institutions. Under the proposed law, future sexual abuse victims would not be subject to any statutory limitations period and could bring a civil claim against their abuser no matter how many years have passed.
The revised law would also enable current victims of past sex abuse a window of opportunity to bring claims which are currently blocked under Maryland law. Right now, Maryland law requires victims of childhood sexual abuse to file a lawsuit by age 38, or else their claim is lost. The new law would give these individuals an open window to bring any unfiled claims before 2023, regardless of how old they are.
The Gilman Investigation Could Help Build Support for the New Laws
Currently, the new sex abuse laws are facing significant political opposition in Maryland. The Maryland Catholic Conference (“MCC”) has been one of the most vocal opponents of the new bill. The MCC and others argue that the proposed new law would subject private schools to a wave of litigation that could bankrupt countless institutions.
Advocates in favor of the new laws in Maryland, however, are citing the Gilman investigation as another example of exactly why abuse victims should be given more time to bring claims against their abusers. Proponents of the new law cite a wealth of data suggesting that victims of childhood sexual abuse may take decades to come to grips with the abuse. They say child sex abuse victims may not be emotionally ready to confront their abusers until they are in their 40s or 50s.
Taking the Gilman case as an example, under current Maryland law, none of the 20 former students who were victimized can file a lawsuit against either their abusers or Gilman. If the new law is passed as-is, however, many of the victims would be given a 2-year window to bring a civil lawsuit against Gilman.
Advocates of the bill also claim that there is no evidence to support the claim that the new law will send countless private schools into bankruptcy. They cite numerous other states that have recently passed similar laws eliminating limitations on sex abuse claims. None of these other states have witnessed private schools being sued into bankruptcy after the new laws were passed.
Contact a Maryland Sexual Abuse Lawyer
If you were a victim of sexual abuse by a teacher, clergy member, or other authority figures, contact the sex abuse lawyers at Miller & Zois for a free consultation.