Dagny Knutson’s Lawsuit Drags On, Appealing Judge’s Order

by Eli Noblitt 47

January 08th, 2017 Industry, National, News

This past summer SwimSwam reported that junior standout swimmer Dagny Knutson had won her civil lawsuit against her former attorney, Richard Foster. However, the legal battle continues to wage after the judge threw out the jury’s verdict and ordered a new trial. The judge reasoned that Knutson and her new attorney, Robert Allard, had failed to prove how someone other than Foster could have negotiated a better deal on Knutson’s behalf. That would mean that Allard and Knutson would have to try the entire case again in front of a new jury, with an additional burden to prove, in order to see a single penny from Foster.

Instead of making immediate plans for a new trial, Allard and Knutson are appealing the judge’s order and hoping to reinstate the jury’s award. Meanwhile, Knutson has completely given up swimming, telling the Washington Post, “It feels like another human swam.”

As a quick recap, Knutson was United States Swimming’s golden child less than a decade ago. In 2008, as a 16-year-old, she broke Katie Hoff’s American short course record in the 400 IM (4:00.62). She also notched public national high school records in the 200 free (1:42.81), 500 free (4:34.78) and 200 IM (1:53.82). With such early successes, Knutson accepted a full swimming scholarship to attend Auburn University, but after a visit to her hometown in North Dakota by USA Swimming head coach Mark Schubert, she decided to forgo a collegiate swimming career and turn professional. Instead of heading to Auburn, Alabama, Knutson moved to Fullerton, California, to train at USA Swimming’s Center of Excellence.

Shortly after Knutson made the move to California, USA Swimming fired Schubert, and the terms of the deal Schubert negotiated with Knutson were disputed. In addition, USA Swimming contested Schubert’s authority to enter into a verbal contract with Knutson on USA Swimming’s behalf. Knutson’s agent connected her with Foster to renegotiate a deal with USA Swimming, which included a performance requirement.

Over the next few years, Knutson battled bulimia and failed to meet the stipulated performance requirement. She lost her tuition support from USA Swimming, and struggled to finance her education and cost of living. She then petitioned the NCAA to have her amateur status restored, but was denied.

Feeling wronged and out of options, Knutson teamed up with a new attorney in 2014, Robert Allard, to bring claims against Foster for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty (in the deal negotiated by Foster, Knutson had promised not to sue Schubert or USA Swimming). Knutson claimed that Foster’s longstanding relationships with USA Swimming employees, including executive director Chuck Wielgus and Coach Schubert, amounted to a conflict of interest. In 2016, the jury ruled in Knutson’s favor, awarding her $617,800, not including punitive damages.

 

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Knuckledragger
5 years ago

It is too bad that she got involved with Foster, After his relationship with USA Water Polo, I did not think he would be particularly well thought of in other NGBs.

Grubby_1
6 years ago

Friends:

It’s swimming…………….

The very concept of “turning pro” as a teenager (like Michael Andrew) is ridiculous. There is very little sponsorship money in this sport and receipts at the door pretty much non-existent.

Unless you are vested in your children swimming, you’re likely are not spending much time trolling swimswam or swimming world. Perhaps a casual, interested spectator is tolerant enough to wait four years to see amazing athletes compete in The Olympics.

Pro vs. the great college swimming experience? You couldn’t pay a swimmer enough to exchange that college experience for the pittance of money a “Professional Swimming Career” could ever garner…………..unless you are Michael Phelps………and as far as I know, there is only one of those………………

The Grand Inquisitor
6 years ago

The first and biggest mistake was for the Knutsons to make several significant decisions before understanding the rules of the game. Professional sports are a complicated business and inexperienced people can be deceived, either purposefully or inadvertently. Like it or not, athletes considering a pro career need an experienced, knowledgeable, and independent advocate/agent whose incentives and fiduciary relationship are aligned with the athlete’s interests to give advice before making irreversible decisions or entering into contracts.

Major lesson for all who follow: no swimmer should ever trust someone who has business with USA Swimming or with potential sponsors to represent their personal interests in business dealings. If you’re at the National team level, do your homework and reach out to… Read more »

BarryA
Reply to  The Grand Inquisitor
6 years ago

“no swimmer should ever trust someone who has business with USA Swimming or with potential sponsors”

First, having business with USA Swimming or potential sponsors may present a conflict of interest, but that by itself is not a good reason to automatically distrust a person. Second, the number of professional swimmers is relatively small, and the number of agents and attorneys with knowledge and experience specific to our sport are similarly small. Certainly athletes should be careful, but not cynical.

marklewis
6 years ago

Is there a young female USA swimmer where professional swimming turned out great?

Katie Hoff and Kate Ziegler say the same thing – they lost perspective and felt a lot of stress to perform.

Missy Franklin’s book reveals she lost her mental edge during her pro year and was hit with anxiety attacks at the 2016 OT.

Dawgpaddle
Reply to  marklewis
6 years ago

Great point. It seems these outstanding athletes and people fall into the “Here today, gone tomorrow” category. There is a need in the swimming culture for a highly successful female professional swimmer to enjoy a lengthy and fruitful career. As of yet it has not happened. For that matter, it would seem the only truly successful pro swimmer in the US to make it big (financially) has been MP. It has to start somewhere. Katie Ledecky would seem to have the ingredients, but there too time will tell.

G.I.N.A
Reply to  Dawgpaddle
6 years ago

The thing about a scolarship is you are forced to train & compete & therefore keep your progress/ commitment up. I remember an Australian at USC who said he once tried to sleep in & the team captain hauled him outta bed to the pool . Back home he would have slept in & missed training .

For girls especially it is a fine balance of being in a regime & being free to choose your swimming & your life. Sometimes the former works ( compare the US to the lackadacial Aust women in Rio ) & sometimes the latter do better .( Aust had a long run of womens’ swim success ) .

The next quad will bring more… Read more »

Walter
Reply to  marklewis
6 years ago

Perhaps Brooke Bennett. Beyond that? Go back to Anita Nall and we do not see great careers after turning pro. Every time I saw a young woman do this, I questioned the decision. It helps to be around your peers doing normal young person things. There is so much more to life than swimming.

Back in 2009, I read this article and thought things wouldn’t go well. See what you think. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/03/AR2009030303239.html

Again, it is a sad story.

Walter
Reply to  Walter
6 years ago

And Diana Munz.

Sane Swim Parent
Reply to  Walter
6 years ago

That article is just sad, on so many levels.

completelyconquered
Reply to  marklewis
6 years ago

I think Amanda Weir is doing pretty good.

Spectatorn
Reply to  marklewis
6 years ago

You have a point and I read Missy Franklin’s book recently as well and gain perspective of her struggle in the last two years. The change and mental impact is undeniable a factor.

Slightly unrelated note – so many had commented against MF’s choice to swim for collage and not turning pro right away after 2012 Olympic. Maybe we as spectators can take heart that turning pro is not for everyone (even for some male swimmers)

taa
6 years ago

They need to take the settlement payment out of Chuck’s ridiculous $1M salary. If USA Swimming board cannot hold him accountable for his handling of this situation they should all be replaced.

Caleb
6 years ago

It almost goes without saying that the leadership of USA Swimming handled this situation disgracefully, and continues to do so. But let’s take a moment to throw some scorn on the NCAA, too… they could have easily made her eligible, maybe with a year’s delay or with paying back some portion of the funds she got from USA Swimming (which certainly could have helped on that end). Just the umpteen-millionth example of the NCAA taking a holier-than-thou pose on amateur athleticism, in this case helping to scuttle the career of Ms. Knutson.

taa
Reply to  Caleb
6 years ago

I agree that its a shame that these organizations hung this young lady out to dry without a path forward to continue her swimming career. Hope she gets paid and finds some peace

Joel Lin
Reply to  Caleb
6 years ago

I concur on your points.

In addition, I think the best resolution to this matter would be to settle for at least these reasons:

1. Foster’s representation was a disgrace. It was either blatant cronyism with Wieglus, et al, or this was simply malpractice to discharge USA Swimming as a party or no consideration.
2. She lost her NCAA appeal, but that determination merely follows the rules & that’s that…this is very unfortunate. Future athletes beware the NCAA lines adverse to athletes, unfortunately Knutson is a cautionary tale for this topic. She can’t re-bargain what is lost and that is what makes USA Swimming a responsible party. She followed their aggressive solicit to permanently bargain away her NCAA… Read more »

Swimmom
Reply to  Joel Lin
6 years ago

You don’t know what you are talking about Joel. Foster represented Knutson and threatened to sue USAS unless Knutson got what he demanded for her. USAS swimming settled for what she would have gotten per the Schubert deal. That’s the point of the court’s ruling. Allard needs to prove that Foster could have gotten a better deal in what is essentially a breach of contract case. However, Foster should never have touched the case absent a written waiver from Knutson. Her case is tragic and I still wish she would make a comeback with a safe and caring coach.

Joel Lin
Reply to  Swimmom
6 years ago

The deal in USAS is you are a national team member with appointed benefits for a one year, non-renewable term. That’s what Knutson exited with. However, that was not the oral contract Knutson had with Schubert (which was never sufficiently denied by Schubert). Schubert later hedged that the arrangement was, of course, performance based. But the paper trail beggars belief in that side of a story. It was an easy path to prove that Wieglus knew, or should have known, and that he was complicit in the forward bargains represented by Schubert. IN a civil matter, that Wieglus knew, or should have known, is the exact standard. Ignorance is not a defense.

Foster “demanded” the one year, non-renewable suite of… Read more »

Ohioswimmer
Reply to  Swimmom
6 years ago

Foster put in writing in an email to Chuck that he would not sue USAS, that he had too many friends there. The email is quoted in other articles. Unless you’ve seen court transcripts that include a threat to sue, there never was one.

tea rex
6 years ago

Makes the decision by Missy and Ledecky to swim NCAA look much better. College is not in their financial interest, maybe not even the best for their short-term performance, but a college team offers structure and support that most 18-year-olds need.

Knutson is the most glaring example. Katie Hoff and Ziegler also had enormous hype coming out of high school, but only moderate success as pro swimmers.

Admin
6 years ago

Lane Four – you’re welcome to be as critical of USA Swimming as you want to be. Your post contained language that is outside of the bounds of decency, and as such was removed. We try and keep an elevated level of conversation here, and if that’s not something you can appreciate, then it’s your prerogative to not participate.