The University of California has agreed to pay yet more to hundreds of women patients who have credibly accused a UCLA gynecologist of sexual wrongdoing, with the now $700 million in approved settlements setting what is described as a national record for the largest such payouts involving a public university.
The UC system, one of the nation’s largest and highest ranked in academic achievement, says it must issue medical facility bonds to cover the staggering costs of claims against Dr. James Heaps and his sexual misconduct between 1983 and 2018 because the institution has exhausted its insurance coverage, the Los Angeles Times reported. University officials called the actions of the onetime health service and specialty doctor practicing at its renowned hospital “reprehensible and contrary to our values.”
The latest, increased UCLA payout of $375 million (for 300-plus cases) comes atop previous settlements of $244 million (for 200 cases), $73 million (for 5,000 claims), and $2.5 million (a single sexual assault incident), the newspaper reported.
Costly settlements for long-perpetuated wrongs
UCLA’s settlements are part of a costly wave of huge payouts for sexual abuses that have occurred by persons in positions of trust and authority against the vulnerable, including:
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Boy Scouts of America may be nearing a deal to pay almost $3 billion to settle claims by tens of thousands of individuals who have asserted they were victims of sexual misconduct by adults in the youth organization over the years.
The Catholic Church, Newsweek estimated in 2018, had paid out $4 billion to settle sexual abuse claims involving clergy and others.
Scandal rips faithful in yet another major religion
Southern Baptists — the largest Protestant denomination in the country, with almost 14 million members and more than 47,000 churches in all 50 states — find themselves now in the throes of their own sexual abuse scandal. Church leaders commissioned an independent review of sexual wrongdoing and have released a redacted 205-page list of hundreds of clergy and workers that the consultant has described as “credibly accused” of abusive acts.
Church members and leaders are reacting with anger, shock, and dismay to the scandalous information — much of it the result of praise worthy, difficult digging by investigative reporters with the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News and published in the news organizations’ hard-hitting, multipart series “Abuse of Faith.”
An important part of the newspapers’ work came from piecing together multiple, individual lawsuits accusing clergy and church workers of sexual misconduct and seeing the larger picture, including how Southern Baptist leaders knew of problems, tried to hush them up, and how the accused kept moving around and persisting in pernicious behavior. The costs of not only the wrongdoing but its coverup will be considerable for the church, experts say.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on children, youths, and women by sexual abuse.
In recent times, we have seen horrific breaches of basic human decency by sexually exploitative doctors, teachers, youth leaders, and priests. This wrongdoing by trusted individuals in positions of authority or major influence on others occurs in churches, schools, colleges and universities, organized athletics, and youth groups.
Sexual assault happens far too often in our country. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Unfortunately, these sex crimes often go unpunished by the criminal justice system. The overwhelming majority of perpetrators are never prosecuted, let alone sent to jail for their crimes.
While critics may deride the civil justice system, especially medical malpractice lawyers like me, lawsuits can provide a crucial way for victims to hold accountable sexual predators and the institutions that permit them to run amok. Victims also may suffer long-term emotional and psychological, as well as physical harms for which they will need years of costly professional care.
We have much work to do to protect the vulnerable from unwelcome, denigrating, and damaging sexual wrongs by medical personnel and other individuals in positions of authority and trust.