The North Carolina SAFE Child Act (SAFE) was passed in 2019 and was heralded as a remarkable opportunity for survivors of child sexual abuse to use civil lawsuits to seek justice. It created a two-year lookback window that allowed child sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits, regardless of any previous statute of limitations that would have barred those cases. Although that lookback window ended in December 2021, the constitutionality of it has now been challenged and this challenge could disrupt the entire purpose of the act.
Lawyers for the Gaston County Board of Education have challenged the constitutionality of the lookback window created by the SAFE Child Act. They argue that it created an opportunity for “endless” liability. The challenge will be brought before the North Carolina Court of Appeals in June this year with a decision expected several months after oral argument..
Alleged Child Sexual Abuse at East Gaston High
The constitutional challenge of the lookback window of the SAFE Child Act from the lawyers for the Gaston County Board of Education seeks to eliminate the sexual abuse lawsuits filed using the lookback window that accused East Gaston High School wrestling coach and teacher Gary Scott Goins of sexually abusing potentially dozens of children over several years. Goins was criminally charged and later convicted of 17 child sex abuse offenses, some of which dated back to the late ‘90s. Goins was sentenced to 34 years in prison.
The lawsuits against the Gaston County Board of Education allege that the school and the school board knew or should have known about Goins’ predatory behavior and criminal acts. Despite what the Board of Education knew or should have known, Goins was still able to work at the school for more than 20 years with virtually no supervision, counseling, or discipline. As such, the plaintiffs are seeking to hold the board of education and school district liable for its negligence that enabled and possibly harbored Goins.
What Can the Challenge Do?
Should the constitutional challenge be upheld by the North Carolina Court of Appeals and later also upheld by the North Carolina Supreme Court, the result will be devastating for countless child sexual abuse survivors who had a renewed hope for justice and filed a civil lawsuit during the SAFE Child Act’s lookback window. It could also make it more difficult to pass similar acts in the future, should they ever become necessary.
If the constitutional challenge succeeds, then it could:
- Threaten the validity of any child sexual abuse claim filed in the lookback window, resulting in wide-ranging dismissals.
- Obscure any evidence of child sexual abuse and/or school administration negligence that would have been brought to light through a lawsuit.
- Complicate any future legislation and/or school district-level regulations in North Carolina to enact new protections for children who have been abused by a school staff member.
- Set a precedent that other school boards and districts across the nation can use to challenge similar lookback windows in child sexual abuse laws passed around the country.
Stay Tuned for Important Updates
At Lanier Law Group, we are known as a leading law firm in North Carolina for SAFE Child Act lawsuits and other sexual abuse litigation. We are deeply involved in working to defeat the constitutional challenge as it moves through the courts. As staunch and outspoken supporters of the SAFE Child Act who have defended its constitutionality in a special hearing before a three-judge panel and who will defend the Acts constitutionality before the Court of Appeals in June, we are determined to do everything we can to see that the Act survives this constitutional challenge. We are also positioning our firm now to react in case there are problems that could affect SAFE Child Act plaintiffs.
To stay atop any important updates about the SAFE Child Act, please visit our blog or our relevant webpage often. If you need to speak with a child sexual abuse attorney in North Carolina, please contact us online or call (855) 757-4204 to schedule a free and confidential case consultation with our respectful and experienced legal team.