The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that USA Taekwondo had an obligation to protect athletes from sexual abuse, upholding an appellate court ruling that partially reversed a trial court decision.
The unanimous decision stemmed from a suit originally filed in October 2015 in Los Angeles Superior Court by three female plaintiffs, all who hoped to be Olympic taekwondo athletes, but who were sexually abused as minors by their coach, Marc Gitelman, who was later convicted and sentenced to more than four years in prison.
The case was transferred in February 2016 to Santa Monica Superior Court. The three won a $60 million judgment against Gitelman in 2017, but Judge Michael Vicencia dismissed claims against USA Taekwondo and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. The plaintiffs appealed and a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal later revived the claims against USA Taekwondo only.
The Supreme Court found that the appellate court ruled correctly.
“A special relationship between the defendant and the victim is one that gives the victim a right to expect protection from the defendant, while a special relationship between the defendant and the dangerous third party is one that entails an ability to control the third party’s conduct,” Justice Leondra Kruger wrote.
In a video news conference, Attorney Stephen Estey, who represented the athletes, praised the ruling, saying it will offer protection to athletes which they did not previously have. He also said it will mean starting from square one with what is now a six-year-old lawsuit, starting with the initiation of discovery.
Estey said some liens have been filed against Gitelman, but that he doubts he will ever have the ability to pay the judgment.
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