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Assessing Claims That New York Changed Its Laws So E. Jean Carroll Could Sue Trump
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Assessing Claims That New York Changed Its Laws So E. Jean Carroll Could Sue Trump

Advocates for sexual assault victims pushed for similar laws for years prior to the Carroll lawsuit.

E. Jean Carroll is seen leaving Manhattan Federal Court on January 26, 2024, in New York City. (Photo by GWR/Star Max/GC Images)

E. Jean Carroll, an advice columnist and author, has won two civil suits against former President Donald Trump since May 2023. In the wake of the latest ruling, in which a jury awarded her $83.3 million for defamation, a prominent social media influencer alleged that New York changed its laws solely to allow Carroll to sue the former president.

First, DC Draino is falsely implying that the latest ruling against Trump was the result of a change in New York law. New York did pass a law in 2022 allowing sexual assault victims to file civil suits, but the lawsuit that eventually yielded the $83.3 million award was filed by Carroll in 2019. Moreover, the lawsuit involved only defamation for statements Trump made after New York magazine published an excerpt of a book by Carroll alleging that Trump had sexually assaulted her in a New York City department store in the mid-1990s. That lawsuit was put on hold by the Justice Department while Trump was president.

In 2022, New York passed the Adult Survivors Act, which created a one-year lookback period during which adult victims of alleged sexual offenses could file civil suits against perpetrators regardless of whether the standard statute of limitations had already passed. Prior to its non-retroactive expansion in 2019, New York’s statute of limitations on sexual assault was generally three years for criminal cases, leaving Carroll well past any window for a criminal complaint. Carroll sued Trump once the Adult Survivors Act took effect, and in May 2023, a jury awarded Carroll $5 million after finding Trump was responsible for sexual abuse and defamation. 

There is no evidence that New York adopted its law specifically to target Trump. Significant advocacy existed for the statute of limitations window passed by New York before Carroll filed her lawsuits, and other states—including Louisiana, California, and North Carolina—have passed similar laws. When state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal first introduced the legislation in 2019, he cited its potential to aid victims of Jeffrey Epstein but mentioned no one else by name.

The Adult Survivors Act was passed by the New York State Assembly in May 2022 and signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul five days later was modeled after the 2019 Child Victims Act. That bill, which was also sponsored by Hoylman-Sigal, created a similar lookback period for individuals who previously suffered sexual abuse before the age of 18. The law also extended the statute of limitations for civil and criminal cases.

While the Adult Survivors Act did allow E. Jean Carroll to pursue a civil lawsuit against Trump for sexual abuse allegations that occurred nearly two decades prior, the bill’s support in New York was not rooted in Carroll’s allegations against the former president.

“The idea that New York passed that bill in order to get Donald Trump is so obviously false having watched this issue in New York for a long time,” Walter Olson, a legal writer and fellow at the Cato Institute, told The Dispatch Fact Check. “Debates about reopening statutes of limitations on sex abuse have been going on for decades. It’s a big big issue in all sorts of states.”

More than 3,000 civil suits were filed during the window opened by the Adult Survivors Act, including against former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Eric Adams—both Democrats. A number of prominent hospitals and prisons were also sued, alongside a variety of other institutions.

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Alex Demas is a fact checker at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in England as a financial journalist and earned his MA in Political Economy at King's College London. When not heroically combating misinformation online, Alex can be found mixing cocktails, watching his beloved soccer team Aston Villa lose a match, or attempting to pet stray cats.