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Mother Sues Son-in-Law in Flo-Jo's Death

Courts: Olympic champion's husband, Al Joyner, did not take 'reasonable care,' suit alleges.

October 01, 1999|RICHARD MAROSI and JACK LEONARD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The mother of Olympic sprint champion Florence Griffith Joyner filed a wrongful death lawsuit this week against her son-in-law, Al Joyner, in what she said is part of an escalating family dispute over control of the famed runner's legacy.

The four-page complaint includes few specific allegations other than the charge that Joyner failed to "exercise reasonable care to avoid foreseeable risk of harm" to his wife and that "harmful or offensive touching" caused her death.

An Orange County coroner's report completed shortly after Griffith Joyner's death last September at age 38 concluded that she suffocated after suffering an epileptic seizure while asleep. The autopsy found no indication of foul play or suspicious circumstances, a point officials stressed Thursday.

"We're standing by our autopsy," said Asst. Sheriff George Jaramillo.

Al Joyner could not be reached for comment. The plaintiff, 69-year-old Florence Griffith, declined to speak directly about the lawsuit but said it stems in part from a dispute with Joyner over his decision to start a foundation in his wife's honor.

Griffith said the foundation is undermining the efforts of a separate charity group, the Florence Griffith Joyner Youth Foundation, which she supports.

According to Griffith, Joyner also tried recently to evict her from the Rancho Santa Margarita home where she lives. Joyner owns the home, she said, but her daughter had allowed her to live there.

Griffith said relations between her and her son-in-law worsened soon after her daughter's death. She said she feels entitled to live in the house.

When asked whether she believes Joyner caused her daughter's death, Griffith hesitated before answering: "In a lot of ways."

She would not elaborate, referring further questions to her attorney, Christopher John Palmer Nicoll. He did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Griffith Joyner died almost 10 years after winning the 100-meter gold medal, the first of three she won in the 1988 Olympics.

She later won the 200 meters and was a member of the teams that won the 400-meter relay and came in second in the 1,600-meter relay.

After his wife's death, Joyner went on to establish the Flo-Jo Memorial Community Empowerment Foundation and launch other ventures in her memory.

He has said he hopes to open a Florence Griffith Joyner museum in Southern California, which would display her writing, art and clothing designs.

He has also worked with an artist on a comic book that features his late wife as a superhero.

A bronze statue of her stands at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Mission Viejo.

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