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April 5, 2021

Brown v. USA Taekwondo (April 1, 2021), S259216

A coach sexually abused minor plaintiffs, who were training in the Olympic sport of taekwondo. Plaintiffs alleged that the United States Olympic Committee and USA Taekwondo (the national governing body for the sport of taekwondo) failed to protect plaintiffs from the coach’s misconduct.

The California Supreme Court granted review to determine “how courts should decide whether a defendant has a legal duty to take action to protect the plaintiff from injuries caused by a third party.”

The Court clarified that “whether to recognize a duty to protect is governed by a two-step inquiry. First, the court must determine whether there exists a special relationship between the parties or some other set of circumstances giving rise to an affirmative duty to protect. Second, if the court finds a duty exists, the court must consult the factors described in” Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108 “to determine whether relevant policy considerations counsel limiting that duty.” The Court rejected plaintiffs’ argument that, “even if the defendant lacks any special relationship with the parties and there are no other circumstances that would give rise to an affirmative duty to protect, such a duty may nonetheless arise after considering the policy factors set out in” Rowland. The Court disapproved five contrary Court of Appeal decisions that “applied the Rowland factors as an alternative source of duty where defendant did not create the risk that resulted in plaintiff’s injuries.”

Note: Horvitz & Levy LLP represented USA Taekwondo before the California Supreme Court.