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University of Michigan Will Pay $490 Million to Settle Abuse Cases

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The University of Michigan said Wednesday that it might pay $490 million to greater than a thousand individuals who had accused a health care provider who worked with football players and other students of sexual abuse.

The agreement, amongst the most important by an American university to settle allegations of sexual abuse, was hammered out in private talks that concluded this week, greater than three years after a former student wrote to Michigan’s athletic director and reported misconduct from the Seventies.

That former student, and, eventually, scores of others, said Robert E. Anderson had molested them during physical examinations, a lot of which were required to take part in athletic programs at Michigan. In some instances, investigators concluded, Anderson performed examinations that were unnecessary and improper; he insisted, for example, on a pelvic exam for a girl who had complained of a sore throat.

Credit…Robert Kalmbach/Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan, via Associated Press

Last June, a son of Bo Schembechler, the football coach who died in 2006 and retains mythic status on the campus in Ann Arbor, said he, too, had been certainly one of Anderson’s victims.

“The University of Michigan has accepted responsibility financially and otherwise for harm that was brought on by Anderson to so many young people who might have been avoided,” Jamie White, a lawyer for a lot of Anderson’s victims, said in a press release. “The university needs to be commended and never condemned.”

He added: “Most of our clients had a powerful love for the university and didn’t need to see everlasting damage, but wanted accountability.”

Michigan said in February 2020 that it was investigating whether Anderson had abused students and asked individuals who believed that they had been victimized to return forward. By then, the authorities had been conducting an inquiry in secret for greater than a 12 months, after a former student sent a letter to Michigan’s athletic director and accused Anderson of wrongdoing.

Michigan’s plea for information led to greater than 100 reports across two weeks. Last May, a law firm hired by the university concluded that Anderson, who died in 2008 and was never prosecuted for any abuse, had “engaged in sexual misconduct with patients on countless occasions.”

Not less than some university officials knew of concerns about Anderson as his profession unfolded; one told investigators that he went thus far as to fireplace the doctor. (Months after Anderson’s purported dismissal, investigators noted, that very same university leader approved a pay increase for Anderson.)

The son of Schembechler who said he was abused by the doctor said the coach ignored his account of it in 1969; his assertions couldn’t be independently corroborated.

Anderson retired in 2003. In recent times, though, his former patients have described a long time of lingering trauma, from a reluctance to hunt intrusive medical examinations to persistent feelings of shame.

The accusations against Anderson — and Michigan’s knowledge of, and responsibility for, his misconduct — led to a wave of litigation against the university and, after months of negotiations, Wednesday’s announcement.

Within the last decade, universities have agreed to pay enormous sums to settle abuse cases. In 2013, Penn State University said it might pay nearly $60 million to greater 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 health care provider. Ohio State University has agreed to pay greater than $46 million to individuals who said that Richard H. Strauss, a longtime team doctor, abused them.

And the University of Southern California pledged greater than $1.1 billion in reference to misconduct by a gynecologist, George Tyndall.

Michigan’s disclosure of the settlement within the Anderson matter got here lower than per week after the board of regents ousted the university president, Mark S. Schlissel, for a relationship with a subordinate that it said occurred “in a way inconsistent with the dignity and popularity of the university.”

The regents are amongst those that must still approve the settlement, the university said, which covers about 1,050 claimants and was reached during mediation.

In a press release on Wednesday, Jordan Acker, the board’s chairman, said Michigan officials “hope this settlement will begin the healing process for survivors.”

The university faced rising pressure to reckon fully with its history. A former Michigan running back, Jon Vaughn, began camping outside the university president’s residence in October, and there have been rumblings across the State Capitol of laws that would have left Michigan more vulnerable within the courts.

Michigan said on Wednesday that $460 million of the settlement could be available to the individuals who had already brought claims and that the university’s lawyers wouldn’t take charge of distributing the cash. As an alternative, a retired federal judge is predicted to oversee the payments to the victims.

A spokesman for the university didn’t reply to an inquiry on Wednesday about how Michigan would pay for the settlement.

White said in an interview on Wednesday that he had briefed his clients on the settlement talks during a video call this week. They were, he suggested, broadly supportive of reaching a deal.

“There definitely is a desire to have it over with,” said White, who added, “Dragging this out for one more three years in litigation was not in anybody’s best interest.”

The remaining $30 million of the settlement might be reserved for individuals who might bring claims against Anderson by July 31, 2023.

“That is one piece of the puzzle that enables them to have some healing and a few closure,” said Michael L. Wright, one other lawyer for Anderson’s victims. “I don’t think that this financial settlement will provide them all the pieces when it comes to closure, but I feel it goes an extended approach to allow them to know that Michigan accepted responsibility, that Michigan knew they failed these athletes and students and so they try to assist them through this process.”

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