Child abuse survivor’s unfair settlements may now be set aside by a Court

10 November, 2021

The Civil Liability Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2021 (NSW) has passed through New South Wales Parliament.

This amends the Civil Liability Act 2002 to enable Courts to set aside certain agreements made in the past that settled claims for child abuse. These agreements can now be set aside if a Court considers it just and equitable to do so.

Previously many survivors of child abuse entered into settlements that they felt were inadequate or far too low. They reported to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that they felt forced to accept these unfair or very low settlements for various reasons including due to the expiry of the limitation period for their claim or where there was no proper defendant to sue, such as in the case of religious institutions.

Some of the issues that prevented child abuse survivors from obtaining fair compensation for the injury and harm they suffered have now been removed.

There is no longer any limitation period for child abuse claims. The bill defines child abuse as abuse perpetrated against a person when the person is under 18 years of age—that is, sexual abuse, serious physical abuse and/or abuse that is perpetrated in connection with sexual or serious physical abuse.

The threshold for the removal of the limitation period is the sexual or serious physical abuse of a child or young person under the age of 18 years. If that threshold has been met then other forms of abuse connected to the threshold abuse, such as psychological abuse or minor physical abuse, can be considered in determining the claim.

Research shows that many survivors will not ever tell anyone about their experience, or will only do so years or decades later. Studies have found that 60–70% of adult survivors said they did not disclose their abuse during childhood.[1] The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that, for those survivors who were able to disclose their experience to the Commission, it took an average of 22 years from the events to do so.

Those survivors who suffered child abuse whilst in custody also have a pathway to justice and can bring a claim with more adequate compensation available for those who may have suffered psychological injuries.

The agreements which can be set aside do not include deeds of release signed when accepting an offer from the National Redress Scheme.

If you are considering an offer from the National Redress Scheme, it is critical to obtain legal advice about the likely prospects of success of a civil claim and the possible quantum of any civil claim for damages which may be available to you.

If you have suffered abuse as a child and would like to explore your options for claiming compensation, you can contact us at Meares Law for a confidential assessment of your claim.


[1] https://www.unswlawjournal.unsw.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/01-MATHEWS-AND-DALLASTON.pdf

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