University of Michigan settles 1,000+ sex abuse claims against dead doctor for $490 million

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Michigan’s top academic institutions now share a dubious distinction, with the University of Michigan joining Michigan State University in agreeing to pay out whopping settlements totaling almost $1 billion for big numbers of claims of sexual abuse by doctors working with the schools’ athletic programs.

UM has just agreed to pay $490 million to more than 1,000 men and women, who said they were sexually assaulted by Robert Anderson, who served as a university doctor for four decades and examined and treated students and notably players with the school’s vaunted football and other teams.

After a whistleblower stepped forward and publicly accused Anderson, who is dead, the university said it would investigate its onetime medical staffer. Scores of people told a law firm hired by UM that the doctor had sexually mistreated them, including with invasive, unnecessary, and outright perverse procedures and exams.

Investigators determined that university officials knew or should have known about the doctor’s wrongdoing but that they allowed him to persist for decades.

The scandal tars the legacy, too, of Bo Schembechler, the legendary UM football coach. Though some of his players rose to this defense and said he was unaware of Anderson’s abhorrent conduct, a son of Schembechler, the football coach who died in 2006 and “retains mythic status on the campus in Ann Arbor, said he, too, had been one of Anderson’s victims,” the New York Times reported.

News organizations reported that Anderson long was notorious among athletes for his twisted practices when screening or treating members of teams. Young men — especially football players and fraternity brothers — referred to him as “Handy Andy,” “Goldfinger,” “Dr. Handerson,” and “Dr. Drop Your Drawers Anderson,” investigators from an independent law firm hired by UM found.

The university will leave it to the parties in the settlement, which includes $30 million to cover future claims, to determine its disbursement, the New York Times reported:

“Michigan said … that $460 million of the settlement would be available to the people who had already brought claims and that the university’s lawyers would not take charge of distributing the money. Instead, a retired federal judge is expected to oversee the payments to the victims. A spokesman for the university did not respond to an inquiry … about how Michigan would pay for the settlement.”

The newspaper included this distressing information on the scale and scope of sexual abuse settlements that colleges and universities have reached in recent times:

“In the last decade, universities have agreed to pay enormous sums to settle abuse cases. In 2013, Penn State University said it would pay nearly $60 million to more than two dozen victims of Jerry Sandusky, a longtime assistant football coach. Michigan State University reached a $500 million settlement in 2018 to compensate victims of Lawrence G. Nassar, a doctor. Ohio State University has agreed to pay more than $46 million to people who said that Richard H. Strauss, a longtime team doctor, abused them. And the University of Southern California pledged more than $1.1 billion in connection with misconduct by a gynecologist, George Tyndall.”

This list, of course, does not include giant cases involving the Boy Scouts and the Catholic church, as well as the mounting list of youth groups and educational institutions hit with accusations of sexual wrongdoing by adults in positions of trust and responsibility.

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 and youths by sexual abuse, especially wrongdoing by doctors and others in positions of leadership and intimate care.

It is unacceptable for our young people to be sexually exploited by adults and especially by those trained and licensed to provide them medical care. It is exasperating and wrong for individuals and leaders to ignore young people when they report sexual abuse or to ignore heinous sexual actions by adults against the young.

The UM suit was painful to pursue, the plaintiffs said, with many noting that they had life changing opportunities at the school and were reluctant to damage its reputation. Still, the civil system provided a way to seek long-demanded justice for the awful actions allowed continue for so long and to force reforms. As the Detroit News reported at one point of the consequences of Anderson’s violations:

 “His misconduct led some athletes to quit their teams, prompted other students to question their sexuality, negatively impacted the academic performance of some students and forced others to leave the university, the [investigators’] report says [finding] ‘The trauma that Dr. Anderson’s misconduct caused persists to this day.’”

We have much work to do to safeguard our young people from sexual miscreants and to punish those who turn a blind eye to their crimes.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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