Michigan State University announced this week that it had settled lawsuits brought by more than 300 victims of Larry Nassar — the former doctor and USA Gymnastics team doctor who sexually abused hundreds of young girls and women.
The university will pay $500 million — $425M to current victims in the lawsuit, and has set aside $75 million in a trust fund for any future victims who come forward.
However, there’s a catch. A condition of the settlement requires that victims pull their support from two bills currently moving through the Michigan Legislature. One bill would strip governmental immunity in cases of sexual misconduct, and the other would waive minors from legal notice requirements in such lawsuits, according to The Detroit News.
“(The) agreement was that governmental immunity and (notice of intent) defenses would be preserved so that we didn’t settle for half a billion only to have another set of cases just like it,” Michigan State special counsel Bob Young told The Detroit News.
Michigan state Sen. Margaret O’Brien has sponsored some of this legislation, and has said that the governmental immunity bill is “very important.” The bill, which lawmakers and Nassar accusers first announced in February, “would strip governmental immunity from institutions in cases of sexual abuse, allow victims to file anonymously in the court of claims and extend the criminal and civil statutes of limitations in civil and criminal cases involving childhood victims. The proposal also allows retroactive civil claims for abuse dating back to 1997.”
This bill quickly passed out of the Senate in March, but has been held up in the House.
“These bills were never about Larry Nassar or Michigan State,” O’Brien told The Detroit News. “They were about eradicating childhood sexual abuse, so any of the legislators or outside people who are suggesting it should be stopped, maybe they haven’t been listening.”
However, it seems the governmental immunity bill is unlikely to pass, according to attorney John Manly. He also told Deadspin’s Dvora Meyers that the “survivors weren’t completely abandoning their advocacy of legislative reforms in Michigan,” and that the survivors “didn’t lose anything” with this condition.
“The only area they agreed not to pursue actively was the bills dealing with governmental immunity,” Manly said. “The truth is, nothing was given up.”
This agreement, Manly said, also has “no going forward obligation,” meaning if the survivors want to advocate for or against a governmental immunity bill in the future, this settlement will not stop them. It only applies to the current bill.
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