As of 1st January 2020, a California law preventing victims of childhood sexual assault from filing a claim against a corporation after the age of 26 has undergone a major change. Now, survivors can file a claim up until their 40th birthday. The ruling has allowed California’s 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal to revive the highly contested lawsuits filed by the two men at the centre of HBO’s documentary Leaving Neverland.
James Safechuck and Wade Robson allege they were sexually assaulted by Michael Jackson when they were minors. Their personal experiences with Jackson are documented in the HBO special Leaving Neverland, in which they allege instances of sexual abuse that they kept secret until adulthood. Safechuck and Robson both filed two legal claims: that Jackson sexually assaulted them as children and that two of Jackson’s companies, MJJ Productions Inc and MJJ Ventures Inc, were complicit in their alleged abuse. The companies were charged with intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and breach of fiduciary duty, according to court documents. Both companies have denied the allegations, and Jackson’s estate denies their claims of sexual abuse.
The appeals court was looking into whether Robson and Safechuck passed the statute of limitations allowed to sue both companies for involvement when it decided to reverse the previous dismissal, in light of the new law. The amendment applies to third party proprietors such as corporations, which means that only the suits against Jackson’s companies can be reconsidered.
Robson filed a claim against Jackson’s estate and sued MJJ Productions Inc. and MJJ Ventures Inc. in 2013, claiming that the two organisations were “specifically designed to locate, attract, lure, and seduce child sexual abuse victims.” The claim was thrown out in 2015 for passing the statute of limitations. The suit against both companies was dismissed in 2017.
Safechuck had a similar experience. In 2014, he filed claims against Jackson’s estate accusing Jackson of sexual abuse. He cited hundreds of sexual encounters with Jackson, starting in 1987 when Safechuck was 10 years old, reports the Los Angeles Times. In addition to his claims, Safechuck added his name to the suit filed by Robson in 2013. Safechuck’s claims were dismissed in 2017.
“We are pleased that the Court of Appeal recognized the strong protections California has for sexual abuse victims, as well as the extended time for them to file claims,” said Robson and Safechuck’s attorney, Vince W. Finaldi, in a statement. “We look forward to proving these claims before a jury. The time is coming for the Jackson estate and lawyers to ‘face the music’ regarding all of these lies and misrepresentations they have been making about Wade and James, and we welcome that day.”
Jackson estate representatives were quick to clarify that the revival of lawsuits did not apply to the estate. “Both of those lawsuits were dismissed in 2016 and the judgements in favour of the Estate and against Mr. Robson and Mr. Safechuck remain FINAL,” said a statement from estate attorney, Howard Weitzman. “Both men admitted in those cases that they committed perjury. 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. The ruling was the result of a change in the law signed by Governor Newsom that extends the time for genuine victims to file claims. The Court of Appeal specifically did not address the truth of these false allegations, and we are confident that both lawsuits will be dismissed and that Michael Jackson will be vindicated once again.”
Both Robson and Safechuck are also involved in a lawsuit filed by the Jackson Estate against HBO for airing Leaving Neverland. HBO made a motion to dismiss the case in September. It was denied.
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.