(Reuters) - Two men featured in a 2019 documentary alleging sexual abuse by Michael Jackson were given the go-ahead on Friday to pursue claims against two of the late singer's companies.
A California appeals court ruled that Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who appeared in "Leaving Neverland," could pursue their claims because of a change in California law.
Robson and Safechuck say they were befriended by Jackson and were abused by him from the ages of 7 and 10 in the early 1990s.
Jackson died in 2009 but the singer's family has denied the claims and described "Leaving Neverland" as a "public lynching." Jackson was acquitted at a 2005 trial in California on charges of molesting a different, 13-year-old, boy.
A lower court had dismissed lawsuits brought by the two, now adult, men because California's statute of limitations had required that claims of childhood sexual assault be filed before an accuser's 26th birthday. The revised law, which came into effect on Jan. 1, extends the period until an accuser's 40th birthday.
"We are pleased that the Court has recognized the strong protections California has put into place for sexual abuse victims under the state's new law extending the statute of limitations," Vince Finaldi, the lawyer for the two men, said in a statement after the ruling by the Second Appellate District in the California Court of Appeals.
"We look forward to sharing the facts of the terrible abuse of James Safechuck and Wade Robson with a jury," Finaldi added.
An attorney for Jackson's estate said he was confident that both lawsuits, against MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures, would be dismissed.
"The Court of Appeal's ruling merely revived lawsuits against Michael Jackson's companies, which absurdly claim that Michael's employees are somehow responsible for sexual abuse that never happened," attorney Howard Weitzman said in a statement.
The appeal court said it was not ruling on the truth of the allegations by Robson and Safechuck but said they involved accusations of "a disturbing years-long pattern of child sexual abuse by international superstar Michael Jackson."
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Daniel Wallis