Michigan State will pay $500 million to survivors of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse in what is believed to be the largest settlement ever in a sexual misconduct case involving a university.
Attorneys representing 332 claimants reached an agreement with representatives from Michigan State during a mediation meeting Tuesday afternoon. The university’s board of trustees agreed to the deal in principle. The settlement did not include any other provisions about policy or acknowledging the claims made against Michigan State.
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“I’m very happy that we’re done with litigation,” Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse more than 18 months ago, said. “I’m very grateful for the historic number that acknowledges some of the hardships that these women have suffered. I’m also very disappointed in a missed opportunity to create meaningful policy changes.”
The suits claim that Nassar sexually abused his patients, many of them young female athletes, for more than two decades. They say that the other defendants had opportunities to put an end to Nassar’s abuse and failed to do so. They argued that those organizations were accountable for allowing the former doctor to prey on young women for as long as he did. The lawsuits also name USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and specific individuals at some of those institutions as defendants. Those parties have not yet reached a settlement agreement.
Michigan State’s agreement stipulates that $425 million of that money will be distributed to the claimants who are currently part of the lawsuits. An allocator will determine how much of that total each person will receive. The remaining $75 million will be held is reserve for two years in the event that others come forward and make claims about Nassar’s abuse.
Attorneys for both sides met this week in California to hash out the final details of an agreement. Former federal judge Layn Phillips served as the mediator for these cases and held an initial meeting with both sides in New York last month.
Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in state prison as part of a plea deal in criminal court. More than 200 people provided victim impact statements at his sentencing hearings in January. He is currently serving a 60-year federal prison sentence for child pornography charges.
Denhollander said she was happy to have the litigation part of this process behind her, but she and the 15-20 other women who were at the settlement talks aren’t done fighting for change. She said the next step is to focus on changing laws that will make it easier to hold institutions and others accountable for sexual abuse.
Denhollander has been a driving force in a package of bills that is currently working its way through the legislative process in Michigan. The new laws, if passed by members of the House, would significantly extend the statute of limitations on civil sexual abuse cases and remove sovereign immunity protections from government-operated institutions like a university.
“The general tenor is that we’re not done yet,” Denhollander said.