Artist News Legal

Appeals court revives child abuse lawsuits against Michael Jackson companies

By | Published on Monday 21 August 2023

Michael Jackson

As expected, a US appeals court has revived lawsuits filed against companies owned by the Michael Jackson Estate by two men who claim that, as children, they were sexually abused by the late pop star.

To date, that litigation has been stalled by legal technicalities. However, as the lawsuits now proceed, a legal rep for the estate insisted on Friday that “we remain fully confident that Michael is innocent of these allegations, which are contrary to all credible evidence and independent corroboration”.

James Safechuck and Wade Robson both accuse Jackson of abusing them as children. Following the musician’s death in 2009, they both sued the Jackson-linked companies MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures in relation to those abuse allegations. They were also the subject of the ‘Leaving Neverland’ documentary in 2019.

The lawsuits were initially dismissed because of the statute of limitations under Californian law. At the time, victims of child abuse needed to file any lawsuits in relation to that abuse by the age of 26. Both claimants had passed that age by the time they went legal.

However, a change was then made to Californian law in 2019, so that victims can now make a legal claim against alleged child abusers up to the age of 40. And the following year Safechuck and Robson’s lawsuits were revived.

That then led to another technicality being explored in court: could the two Michael Jackson companies be held liable for the alleged misconduct of their former owner? The estate argued they could not, and the Californian judge overseeing the cases basically agreed.

Dismissing both lawsuits once again, the judge said that it could not be proven that the two companies or their employees had any legal duty to control or stop Jackson. Nor did the employees have the practical power to do so, given the musician was the sole shareholder and director of both companies.

Safechuck and Robson then appealed that ruling. And last month the Californian Court Of Appeal issued a tentative decision to revive the two lawsuits ahead of a hearing in which lawyers for both sides again set out their respective positions.

That tentative decision was confirmed last week. The appeals court said in its judgement: “A corporation that facilitates the sexual abuse of children by one of its employees is not excused from an affirmative duty to protect those children merely because it is solely owned by the perpetrator of the abuse”.

Moreover, it ruled, “defendants’ employees, officers and directors had some control over and responsibility for plaintiffs’ welfare, and defendants were on notice of the danger. They were best situated to prevent the alleged injuries”.

Responding to the ruling, the estate’s legal rep Jonathan Steinsapir said: “Two distinguished trial judges repeatedly dismissed these cases on numerous occasions over the last decade because the law required it”.

“We remain fully confident that Michael is innocent of these allegations”, he added, “which are contrary to all credible evidence and independent corroboration. We trust that the truth will ultimately prevail with Michael’s vindication yet again. Michael Jackson himself said, ‘Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons’”.