New California Law Poses a Problem To USA Swimming

Governor of California Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 218 into law in October 2019, which creates a five-year window to file past claims of sexual assault that have already expired under the statute of limitations. The bill also changes “child sexual abuse” to “child sexual assault” for more expanded coverage, and it lengthens the statute of limitations for reporting childhood sexual assault from what was previously age 26, to now age 40.

While the previous version of the law allowed victims to file civil suits within eight years of becoming an adult, or three years from the date an adult victim realizes or should have realized they were sexually abused, Assembly Bill 218 allows victims 22 years to file suit after becoming an adult (age 18), or five years from the date an adult victim realizes or should have realized they were sexually abused. The new law also allows victims to seek treble damages which are triple the amount of damages in civil cases where the victims can prove that an organization covered up sexual abuse.

While this law is a major step forward for victims of sexual abuse, this law can cause major consequences for USA Swimming.  The organization is currently facing many sexual assault cases in California. USA Swimming has been able to avoid dozens of lawsuits because of the statute of limitations. With the extension of the statute of limitations, many sexual misconduct cases that were barred before the new bill are now being brought into court against USA Swimming.

Robert Allard, an attorney who represents dozens of women who allegedly were abused by their swim coaches, stated that “USA Swimming will no longer be able to hide behind legal loopholes in their defense of claims of negligence and cover up associated with its handling of sex abuse complaints.”

Allard believes that this new bill will allow him to expose USA Swimming and prove that the organization covered up many sexual abuse cases. In 2013 and 2014, USA Swimming paid a Sacramento firm $77,627 to lobby against California Senate Bill 131, which lengthened the statute of limitations in childhood sexual abuse cases, but then-Governor Jerry Brown would not sign the bill into law (though the bill has since passed and was put into effect on January 1, 2014, despite major lobbying efforts).

Tracy Palmero, a swimmer in Orange County, is going to be able get her day in court because of Assembly Bill 218. Palmero was 14 when her swim coach Everett Uchiyama, who because USA Swimming’s national team director, allegedly began trying to have a sexual relationship with her in the 1980s. Palmero states she was 17 when her and Uchiyama began having sexual intercourse. Palmero realized, in her 30s, that she was being sexually abused by Uchiyama, but it was too late to file a civil suit in California. USA Swimming covered up the sexual assault and said that Palmero allowed the sexual relationship to happen.

Needless to say, Assembly Bill 218 will allow many victims to get the justice that they deserve.


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