University of Michigan to Pay $490M to Settle Sexual Abuse Lawsuits Involving Deceased Sports Doctor

Lawsuits claim the University received complaints for decades about Dr. Robert Anderson, but failed to take meaningful action.

The University of Michigan will pay $490 million to resolve claims brought by more than 1,000 plaintiffs who say they were sexually assaulted by a former University sports doctor, who is now deceased.

On January 19, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman issued a press release announcing the tentative sexual abuse settlement agreement, which must still be approved by the University’s board of regents, 98% of claimants, and the Court.

The lawsuits involved complaints from former students who say they were sexually abused by Dr. Robert Anderson, who worked as a physician at University of Michigan from 1968 to 2003. He died in 2008.

Plaintiffs claim he routinely sexually assaulted students, primarily male athletes, alleging that the University knew about the sexual assaults for years yet did virtually nothing to protect its students.

While the University stated that its first indications of a problem came from allegations reported in 2018, the lawsuits maintained that is untrue.

Plaintiffs claimed the university began receiving complaints from male students almost immediately in 1968 or 1969, but did not remove Anderson from his position as University Health Services Director until 1979 following more complaints that he was sexually assaulting male students during medical examinations. However, the University just moved Anderson to the Athletic Department as a physician, where he was given the opportunity to abuse more students until he retired in 2003.

The deal, which includes $30 million to be set aside for future claimants who may step forward, comes after 15 months of mediation overseen by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts of the Eastern District of Michigan. The money will come from the University’s reserves, as well as from its insurers.

“Once approved, we hope that this settlement will continue the healing process for survivors. At the same time, our work is not complete,” Coleman said in her press release. “The Board and administration plan to accelerate further efforts to work toward a campus with a positive, nurturing and safe culture that reflects our values as a community. We will strive to be free from abuse and sexual misconduct, building on the work that hundreds in our community are committed to succeeding.”

The case is similar to that of the more well known sexual abuse incidents surrounding Larry Nassar, the former Olympics and Michigan State University (MSU) physician convicted of abusing hundreds of young girls.

Last month, USA Gymnastics announced it had agreed to a $380 million settlement filed by more than 500 of Nassar’s victims.

Many of the women, who call themselves the Sister Survivors, indicate they told USA Gymnastics officials, Michigan State University (MSU) staff,  and others about Nassar’s behavior, but were discouraged from reporting the incidents. Some testimony even suggested officials told the survivors they simply did not know the difference between sexual assault and a medical examination. However, after victims began to step forward publicly, the abuse finally got over-due attention and Nassar was arrested, tried, and found guilty on multiple charges.

In May 2018, MSU reached a $500 million settlement specifically with those abused by Nassar, who was an assistant professor there when much of the abuse occurred. The global agreement included $425 million for the currently known survivors, and another $75 million was set aside for any new survivors who stepped forward in the future.

Nassar will spend the rest of his life in jail, having received a federal sentence of 60 years on child pornography charges. He has also received two additional sentences; including one for 40 to 175 years, and another of 40 to 125 years from verdicts in two Michigan courts.

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