The surge of sexual abuse lawsuits that hit some of the music industry’s most powerful figures last week isn’t over yet, several lawyers tell Rolling Stone.
Last week, as the window for New York’s Adult Survivors Act (ASA) was nearing a close, it brought forward one of the widest sets of allegations to hit the industry in years as renowned artists and executives including Axl Rose, Sean “Diddy” Combs, L.A. Reid and Jimmy Iovine all faced lawsuits that detailed allegations of sexual abuse.
The act — which opened its lookback window on Thanksgiving 2022 — temporarily allowed people to file sexual abuse lawsuits regardless of the statute of limitations until the window closed last week. The bill’s impact is apparent, with over 3,000 cases filed against medical providers, correctional facilities, politicians and figures across music and entertainment.
Combs was accused of sexual abuse in three separate lawsuits, settling the first case — filed by his ex-girlfriend, the R&B singer Cassie — a day after it was filed. (Combs denied the allegations.) Others who faced lawsuits brought forward by the ASA include Steven Tyler, former Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow, Anti-Flag singer Justin Geever aka Justin Sane, and the estate of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, which faces lawsuits from two different women. (Reps for Tyler, Reid and Geever didn’t respond to requests for comment at the time the suits were filed. Portnow denied the claims. An attorney for Ertegun’s widow said that “any claim against Mrs. Ertegun is meritless and will be vigorously defended on her behalf.”)
While the ASA’s deadline has passed, experts tell Rolling Stone that more lawsuits in the music and entertainment industries will likely surface going forward through separate laws in New York and California.
Last year, California passed AB 2777, which, like New York’s Adult Survivors Act, temporarily waives some statutes of limitations for civil suits regarding sexual misconduct. The bill includes language for two separate windows. The first revives misconduct claims dating back to 2009, with accusers having until the end of 2026 to file suit.
A second window, which closes on New Year’s Eve, waives the statute of limitations entirely and allows survivors to sue specifically over sexual misconduct claims that are tied to allegations of cover-up from other entities such as companies. (The bill also includes the ability to sue specific employees accused of cover-up.)
Multiple women have already come forward in recent months with sexual misconduct allegations, citing AB 2777 in their suits. Months after a Rolling Stone investigation revealed an $830,000 settlement and non-disclosure agreement between Danny Elfman and composer Nomi Abadi, a second anonymous Jane Doe accuser sued Elfman and his company De La Muerte, detailing similar sexual harassment claims. Elsewhere, music acquisition and publishing company Hipgnosis Songs placed executive Kenny MacPherson on leave a day after a former colleague accused him of sexually assaulting her when they both worked at music publishing company Chrysalis in the early 2000s. (Both Elfman and MacPherson denied the claims.)
Jeff Anderson — whose law firm filed the suits against MacPherson and Elfman along with other claims against Tyler, Portnow and Bad Boy Records and its former president Harve Pierre — says his firm is readying “dozens of more potential suits in California” in the weeks ahead before the deadline. A majority of those suits will be focused around the music industry, he says.
“The surge isn’t over, far from it,” Anderson says, adding that he believes the claims add external pressure to “force the industry to transform.” “When it comes to the music and entertainment industry, it’s largely been insiders working with insiders to keep secrets and protect celebrities and executives.
“Survivors are given permission to tell instead of feeling like they’re oppressed and required to hold onto the secret in fear, shame or self blame,” Anderson continues. “Survivors are now given the message that there are ways in the law to take action, and that’s a high motivator. Most people don’t call because they want accountability just for them; they want to protect others from the same horror.”
Attorney Douglas Wigdor, who represented Cassie in the R&B singer’s suit against Combs, tells Rolling Stone he also has a potential music-related suit that falls under the 2009 window that he may file in California by early next year. Outside of the California law, there still remains another law in New York City — the Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Act — which gives people until 2025 to file claims.
While the ASA’s window closed, advocates, attorneys and lawmakers have discussed the possibility of reopening the window.
Alison Turkos, a sexual assault survivor and advocate who sued Lyft and the NYPD after a Lyft driver assaulted her in 2017, called the Adult Survivors Act a crucial step forward to allow survivors to seek accountability over their claims, particularly given how long it often takes survivors to process their trauma. She supports an extension of the bill, as well as permanently ending the statutes of limitations on these claims.
“It’s important for survivors to determine what justice means for them,” Turkos says. “There isn’t a right or wrong way to pursue accountability. I reported. I had a rape kit done, I went to the New York City Police Department and the FBI then got involved. I did everything the quote unquote right and best way that society asks of us, I handed everything to authorities on a silver platter. No criminal charges were ever brought, and so the criminal legal system failed me. The civil legal system was the other way because I could not file criminal charges against the rideshare company Lyft or against the institutions who played a role in perpetuating harm against me.” (A Lyft spokesperson said that “what this rider describes is awful, and something no one should have to endure,” but added that “in this case, the driver passed the New York City TLC’s background check and was permitted to drive.”)
New York State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who co-sponsored the Adult Survivors Act, similarly supports reopening the ASA window and further says he’d support ending statutes of limitations on civil cases for sexual abuse claims overall. “There’s certainly more survivors and more claims. The open question is do we reopen the window? Do we seek a permanent window,” Hoylman-Sigal says. “Those are questions I want to speak with my colleagues and Senate leadership about. I’m of the mind that these statutes protect abusers more than they safeguard the fairness of our judicial system.”
Several attorneys tell Rolling Stone there was a strong possibility the ASA would reopen. But it was less certain whether the complete waiving of a statute of limitations was wise or necessary.
“I do believe defendants should have a right to defend themselves, and it does become increasingly hard as time goes on for that to happen. So I recognize the purpose of the statute of limitations, but I also am acutely aware of the hurdles associated with victims of sexual assault to come forward,” Wigdor says. “There needs to be some middle ground. I fall into the camp of thinking it should be extended for another period just because we are receiving so many calls from people who tell me they didn’t know about it.”
Attorneys who spoke with Rolling Stone say reopening the window in New York is necessary particularly because of the lack of awareness around the bill until high-profile suits like the one against Combs were filed. Susan Crumiller, who says she filed about a dozen claims through the Survivors Law Project, tells Rolling Stone that her firm has gotten “10 times as many calls” last week compared to the several months before.
Wigdor similarly says he’s been overwhelmed with calls from survivors since the Cassie case filed and says he’d likely have dozens of more cases to file if the ASA reopened. “We’re still very much at the beginning stages here,” Wigdor says. “People weren’t aware of the Adult Survivors Act until the deadline. It often doesn’t really get read and resonated to potential victims until there’s another major case where they read about it. We saw that obviously at the beginning of the MeToo movement as well. I think we’ll continue to see more cases, even though the ASA for now has expired.”