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Californian courts revive Michael Jackson abuse lawsuits following change to law

By | Published on Tuesday 7 January 2020

Michael Jackson

As expected, an appeals court in California has revived lawsuits being pursued against companies linked to Michael Jackson by the two men who appeared in the HBO documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’.

James Safechuck and Wade Robson both accuse the late pop star of abusing them as children. Following Jackson’s death in 2009, they both sued his estate and companies linked to the star in relation to those abuse allegations. But the cases were dismissed, in no small part because of the statute of limitations that exists for such lawsuits in California.

Under previous laws, victims of child abuse needed to file their lawsuits by the age of 26. Both claimants had passed that age by the time they went legal. However, a change was made to Californian law on this point last year, so that victims can now make a legal claim against alleged child abusers up to the age of 40.

The politician who led on that amendment to the state’s statute of limitation laws, Lorena Gonzalez, noted at the time that: “The idea that someone who is assaulted as a child can actually run out of time to report that abuse is outrageous”.

Both Safechuck and Robson quickly indicated that they hoped to utilise that change in the law to revive their respective cases against the Jackson companies (though not the estate).

An appeals court in California indicated in November that it would allow that to happen. Then last week – with the new statute of limitations actually coming into force on 1 Jan – judges formally reversed the lower court rulings that dismissed Safechuck and Robson’s lawsuits.

Welcoming that development, a legal rep for the two men – Vince Finaldi – said in a statement: “We are pleased that the court has recognised the strong protections California has put into place for sexual abuse victims under the state’s new law extending the statute of limitations. We look forward to sharing the facts of the terrible abuse of James Safechuck and Wade Robson with a jury”.

The Jackson estate, of course, has been disparaging of Safechuck and Robson’s allegations throughout, also heavily criticising HBO’s decision to broadcast the ‘Leaving Neverland’ programme. While estate reps conceded last year that the change to Californian law would likely result in Safechuck and Robson’s legal cases being revived, they say they are confident both lawsuits will be dismissed again second time round.

Noting that the appeals court only passed judgment on the statute of limitations point, not the actual substance of Safechuck and Robson’s cases, the estate’s lawyer Howard Weitzman told reporters last week: “The court of appeal’s ruling merely revived lawsuits against Michael Jackson’s companies, which absurdly claim that Michael’s employees are somehow responsible for sexual abuse that never happened”.