MLSE settles sexual abuse suit involving Ballard out-of-court

Woman alleged eight years of sexual abuse – Out-of-court settlement saves company from PR nightmare after 22 sexual abuse lawsuits against Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

By RICK WESTHEAD*

A WOMAN who alleged that former Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard sexually abused her for eight years has settled her case against Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, saving the company from the public relations nightmare a trial would likely have caused.

Loretta Merritt, the plaintiff’s lawyer, declined to comment on terms of the settlement, although one Toronto lawyer who specializes in sexual abuse claims said it’s typical for such settlements to be worth $300,000 to $400,000.

An MLSE spokesperson couldn’t be reached for comment.

Now living in King City, the plaintiff, who was identified in court documents only as “R.M.” alleged that Ballard first abused her in 1963 when she was 10. Her uncle worked as a painter at Maple Leaf Gardens. Ballard died in 1990 at the age of 86 and his estate wouldn’t be included as a defendant because the claim was filed more than two years after his death. The lawsuit was filed on April 9, 2003.

The woman charged that the abuse occurred “generally’’ on holidays and weekends in locations including Ballard’s car in the underground parking garage at the Gardens, the hockey arena’s rafters and the popular Hot Stove Lounge. It continued repeatedly until she was 18, she alleged.

During the years she claims she was abused, Ballard would give her tickets to Gardens events, like front-row seats to a 1965 Beatles concert. Between the ages of 16 and 18, she allegedly worked as his driver.

The woman had sought damages of at least $1.95 million, including $200,000 for pain and suffering; $500,000 for loss of future income and $1 million for special and punitive damages. The complainant hadn’t approached authorities or filed a lawsuit before last year, her lawyer told the Star, because Ballard threatened to fire her uncle.

The sex scandal at the Gardens surfaced in the mid-1990s when victim Martin Kruze, who later committed suicide, came forward with his story of repeatedly suffering sexual abuse there. Some 90 other victims came forward after Kruze, and confidential settlements were reached in many cases.

Merritt said she has settled 22 sexual abuse lawsuits filed against MLSE.

* Rick Westhead is a sports business columnist for the Toronto Star, in which this article first appeared.

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