LANSING, Mich. (AP)More than 1,000 sexual abuse victims of a University of Michigan sports doctor would get a window in which they could sue the school for damages under new bills that the Legislature will consider.
It is the second time since 2018 that the state might retroactively open a period for lawsuits to proceed if abuse occurred under the guise of medical treatment. Similar legislation was enacted following the conviction of former women’s national gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar, who molested hundreds of girls and women, including at Michigan State University.
Under bills announced Tuesday, a 30-day period would be created for victims of the late Dr. Robert Anderson to file a lawsuit regardless of the statute of limitations. The university could not use the government immunity defense.
Staff at the University of Michigan missed many opportunities to stop Anderson over his 37-year career, according to a law firm hired by the school.
The legislation will be introduced in the state Senate this month. Related but broader state House bills that were introduced last winter have not advanced since a September committee hearing during which three Anderson victims gave emotional testimony about being raped.
Republican state Sen. Tom Barrett of Charlotte, who is spearheading the latest push, said the school in Ann Arbor has acknowledged the abuse. Many of the victims were student-athletes at the university who were reluctant or scared to come forward because they thought no one would believe them, he said.
”We are obliged to provide a path forward to justice for the victims,” Barrett said, adding they are owed the same opportunity as Nassar victims. Michigan State agreed to a $500 million settlement with them.
Michigan has been in mediation to resolve lawsuits for more than a year. The legislation could provide victims more certainty and increase pressure on the school for a resolution.
”The Anderson survivors also deserve their day in court to seek justice from the University of Michigan – which harbored, enabled and protected Dr. Anderson for more than 30 years,” said Parker Stinar, a lawyer for roughly 200 victims.
A spokesperson for the university declined to comment on the bills.
Under the 2018 laws, Nassar victims were given a 90-day window to sue retroactively. Also, people who were sexually abused as children can pursue legal action until their 28th birthday. The previous cutoff generally was a minor victim’s 19th birthday.
Critics have said Michigan’s statute of limitations still lags behind many other states despite the recent strides. The House bills would open a one-year period for Anderson victims to file suit and extend the time limit to the later of age 28, 10 years from the abuse or six years after the discovery of injuries caused by the abuse.
Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania professor and CEO of CHILD USA, a Philadelphia-based think tank that tracks statute of limitations reforms, and Kathryn Robb, executive director of Philadelphia-based CHILD USAdvocacy, submitted testimony backing the House legislation.
”Michigan’s short (statute of limitations) have kept a broad class of victims from coming to court, while protecting the institutions that sheltered abusers and covered up the abuse,” they wrote.
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