Michigan State University has agreed to pay $500 million to settle lawsuits filed by 332 alleged victims of disgraced former sports physician Larry Nassar, both sides announced Wednesday. The announcement ends the university’s involvement in litigation over the former Olympic gymnastics doctor’s rampant sexual abuse of girls and women under the guise of medical treatment.
• The settlement will pay $425 million to the 332 girls and women who have come forward to date, averaging about $1.28 million per victim.
• Michigan State will set aside an additional $75 million in a trust fund for any victims who come forward in the future.
“This historic settlement came about through the bravery of more than 300 women and girls who had the courage to stand up and refuse to be silenced,” said John Manly, one of several attorneys representing victims, in a statement. “It is the sincere hope of all of the survivors that the legacy of this settlement will be far reaching institutional reform that will end the threat of sexual assault in sports, schools and throughout our society.”
In January, more than 150 women submitted victim-impact statements, and many were read aloud at one of Nassar’s sentencing hearings. Hearing Nassar’s victims speak about the alleged abuse they experienced as young athletes sparked national outrage. Some anger was directed at MSU, where Nassar worked at a campus clinic for years. He treated Michigan State athletes as well as young gymnasts, some who traveled from several counties over with their parents in seek of medical treatment from the same doctor who worked with the United States’ Olympic heroes.
In August 2016, Rachael Denhollander, a Louisville woman, filed a police report accusing Nassar of sexually assaulting her years prior, when she was a teenage gymnast seeking his treatment, and then told her story to the Indianapolis Star. Nassar denied the accusations, but dozens of women across the country, after reading the Star story of Denhollander’s abuse, realized that what they had thought was unusual medical treatment — in which Nassar digitally penetrated them without gloves or warning — was actually sexual assault.
Women came forward alleging they’d complained about Nassar to Michigan State officials as far back as 1997, and in 2014, a university title IX investigation cleared Nassar, ruling that a woman alleging sexual assault had misinterpreted legitimate medical treatment. Top university officials, however, led by then president Lou Anna Simmon, publicly claimed Michigan State had done nothing wrong in handling prior complaints about Nassar.
The university’s trustees maintained support for Simon, and her stance, until the sentencing hearing in January. Simon resigned the day a Michigan judge sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years for his crimes.
Nassar, 54, is serving an effective life sentence in prison after pleading guilty to assaulting nine girls and women in Michigan, as well as to federal child pornography crimes.
“I think that the magnitude and the level of hurt that these women endured as kids, made it essentially impossible for MSU to continue business as usual,” Manly, the victims’ attorney, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
While Wednesday’s settlement will remove Michigan State from Nassar-related litigation, the fallout over his crimes is likely not yet over. Lawsuits continue against the USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic Committee, Bela and Martha Karolyi and other parties. Congressional investigations continue, as well as law enforcement investigations in Michigan and Texas, where the Karolyis’ ranch is located.
“These women are not going away. They are going to be there, holding these people accountable until this changes,” Manly said. “This is the beginning, not the end.”