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America's Cup- Lawsuit against Oracle Racing lodged in San Francisco

by Richard Gladwell/ on 20 Dec 2014
J.P.Morgan BAR AC45 team training ahead of an ACWS regatta. Skippered by Ben Ainslie with Oracle team mates Simon Daubney, Matt Mitchell, Jan Dekker.and Kyle Langford. Lloyd Images/J.P.Morgan BAR
In further legal fallout from the 34th America's Cup one of the New Zealand sailors named in an action bought by the International Sailing Federation has in turn lodged a lawsuit in a California Court against his former racing team, Oracle Team USA.

Matthew Mitchell claims he had to pay out $68,000 in legal fees, interest and other costs, to defend himself in the ongoing case with the International Sailing Federation over changes made to the one design AC45 catamarans used in preliminary regattas in 2012 and 2013.

The issue erupted in San Francisco in late July 2013, just six weeks before the start of the 34th America's Cup. Three AC45's were affected - two raced by Oracle Team USA and another for Ben Ainslie Racing, which was prepared and managed by Oracle Team USA. Ainslie's boat was also crewed by several members of Oracle Team USA. Ainslie was a key crew member aboard the team's larger AC72 catamaran which staged a remarkable comeback to win the America's Cup.

After the measurement issues were reported, both Ben Ainslie Racing and Oracle Team USA withdrew their three yachts retrospectively from four regattas in the America's Cup World Series.

Several members of the Oracle Team USA shore and sailing crew were suspended by the International Jury for the duration of the regatta. The team itself was fined $250,000.

One case has been heard by the Court for Arbitration for Sport over the incident, and that body confirmed the involvement of a Dutch sailor, Dirk de Ridder, who denies that involvement, knowledge or instruction. However his suspension from the sport was reduced from three years to 18months.

Mitchell's and other cases are at an earlier stage of consideration by the ISAF and further action may follow.

Matthew Mitchell sued Oracle Racing Inc. on Wednesday in Superior Court, in San Francisco.

According to a news report, Mitchell claims his employer told him to add the weight, so the employer should foot his legal bills.

Oracle Racing's principle owner is Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison, who is not a party to the case.

Mitchell says that Oracle Racing hired him to prepare a 45-foot catamaran for the America's Cup World Series, a string of races building up to the 34th America's Cup, which took place in San Francisco Bay in 2013 and used 72-foot boats.
Mitchell says flew to San Francisco in 2012 and joined his teammates on the Oracle Racing team.

'Immediately after his arrival, plaintiff was assigned by defendant to commission and prepare a boat known as the BAR45 (Ben Ainslie Racing),' the complaint states.

His tasks were 'listed on a 'job list' that was prepared and issued by defendant,' the complaint states. 'Included in the 'job list' was a task listed as 'Fill Kingpost.'

The kingpost is a sturdy post near the bow that rises above the deck. Race officials subsequently found that the kingpost on Mitchell's boat was too heavy and broke AC45 class rules.

Mitchell's was named as a defendant by the America's Cup International Jury and was required to attend a two-day hearing in August 2013.

The jury decided that Mitchell probably participated in filling the kingpost with heavy resinous material.

The decision described Mitchell, who is from New Zealand, as a sailor and yacht rigger working on his fifth America's Cup campaign, who should have known that because the kingpost on the AC45 class boat he was assembling was 'nearly 2.5 times heavier than the norm, its legality was obviously questionable.'

Mitchell has had to pay for representation not only in the original hearing but also in subsequent investigations by the International Sailing Federation and Yachting New Zealand, according to the complaint.

Oracle Racing is required by the California Labor Code to indemnify Mitchell because he was preparing the boat in line with his employer's instructions and has had to pay defense fees 'as a direct and proximate result of the acts of defendant,' according to the lawsuit.

Mitchell seeks his legal fees, plus interest, and special damages for failure to indemnify under the California Legal Code.

For the full report click here

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