After Two Years of Pushback, Michigan State Finally Cooperates
Michigan State University announced this week that it has reached a tentative deal with the 300+ plus survivors who were sexually assaulted and victimized by disgraced doctor Larry Nassar. The terms of the settlement include $425 million for the survivors who have come forward, with an additional $75 million set aside in a trust fund to protect “any future claimants alleging sexual abuse by Larry Nassar.” The settlement must still be approved by the judge assigned to the matter, although approval is likely.
This settlement only deals with MSU and does not include the current litigation between the survivors and other entities, such as USA Gymnastics, the US Olympic Committee, and gymnastic coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi.
Starting with the original lawsuit, which was filed 2 years ago, the public finally became aware of the horrible tales of sexual abuse Dr. Nassar perpetrated on young girls for almost two decades. Initially, MSU sided with Dr. Nassar, stating they believed his care was appropriate. However, newspaper reports published in 2016 began to explain the full truth of what had been going on, who knew about it, and when.
At that time, MSU continued to deny any wrongdoing despite the ample evidence that various university employees knew Dr. Nassar had performed inappropriate treatments on various athletes for years, yet still employed his services.
Michigan State reached the settlement after a somewhat abbreviated period of negotiation. University President, John Engler, the former Michigan governor who while in office made it his personal mission to get rid of access to the civil justice system, stated in a letter to the MSU community that the university’s insurance carriers participated in the mediation and “we expect all of them to fulfill their contractual obligations.”
Lawyers for Michigan State had tried to get out of paying any claims, alleging the statute of limitations had run on most of the claims and that the university, as a public institution, is immune from lawsuits for civil compensation in cases involving sexual assault.
The Michigan legislature is currently debating a package of bills meant to reform the civil immunity laws involving sexual assault, the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases, sexual assault reporting and other issues.
Unfortunately, as part of the settlement agreement, victims agreed not to actively support a portion of the state Senate sexual assault bills taking away governmental immunity from tort liability for governmental units involved in sexual assaults or cover-ups.
The problem with this is a public high school or university could employ another monster in the future who commits the same heinous acts, and that public school would be held unaccountable for its actions, even when it knew the perpetrator was doing these horrible things.
Although the settlement number gave some individuals pause, the survivors and their families deserve every cent. No amount of money can ever put them back in the place they were before Dr. Nassar entered their lives. No amount of money can ever return them to a time and place where they don’t have to think about what happened and why. Despite its assertions by the University President, MSU has ample insurance coverage and other financial resources to pay these claims.
The Lee Steinberg Law Firm, P.C. salutes the survivors. We are proud of their heroism and their strength to speak out against the wrongs being done to them and so many others. Their tenacity throughout this process has been inspiring. We hope they are able to move on and continue to inspire others.