In California, victims of sexual assault and abuse have a right to file a civil lawsuit against their abusers and other parties responsible for what happened. However, when the defendant is a third party that did not cause the abuser’s conduct or the resulting abuse, the court will generally find that no duty exists. There is an exception to this general rule when the third party has a special relationship with either the perpetrator or the victim. In Brown v. USA Taekwondo, Cal. Sup. Ct. Case No. S259216, the California Supreme Court established a two-step framework for determining whether a special relationship and an affirmative duty to protect exists.[1]

Factual and procedural background

Yazmin Brown, Brianna Bordon, and Kendra Gatt trained in taekwondo for the Olympics when they were teenagers. Each of the three athletes was coached by Marc Gitelman and frequently traveled with him to competitions and training events in California and throughout the country. Gitelman sexually abused each of the teens when they traveled to competitions. His abuse continued for several years until he was banned from coaching by USA Taekwondo. Subsequently, Gitelman was convicted of multiple felony sex abuse offenses for his sexual assaults and abuse of the three teen girls.