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Michigan State, Nassar victims reach $500M settlement

In this Feb. 17, 2017, file photo, Dr. Larry Nassar listens to testimony of a witness during a preliminary hearing, in Lansing, Mich. Nassar, a former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics sports doctor, is taking a step toward resolving one of four criminal cases against him in Michigan. Nassar is due in federal court Tuesday, July 11, to plead guilty to child pornography charges. It’s separate from sexual assault charges involving women and girls who said they were molested when they sought treatment for gymnastics injuries. (Robert Killips/Lansing State Journal via AP, File)

In this Feb. 17, 2017, file photo, Dr. Larry Nassar listens to testimony of a witness during a preliminary hearing, in Lansing, Mich. (Robert Killips/Lansing State Journal via AP, File)

Michigan State 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, ending 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.

“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.”

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. At this sentencing hearing in January, the emotional testimony of more than 150 girls, women and parents triggered national outrage about the Nassar case, prompting fallout that continues for the organizations through which Nassar accessed his victims.

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.

“Michigan State is pleased that we have been able to agree in principle on a settlement that is fair to the survivors of Nassar’s crimes,” said Robert Young, a lawyer for the university.

The settlement applies to only Michigan State University and MSU individuals sued in the litigation. It does not address claims against USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic Committee, Bela and Martha Karolyi, Twistars, John Geddert or any other parties.

Before 2016, Nassar was a respected longtime Michigan State sports physician and was renowned for his lengthy tenure as the team physician for USA Gymnastics women, where he worked with young gymnasts at the Olympics and other international competitions and national team camps. Signed photos of Olympic gymnasts covered the walls of his office at a campus clinic, where he treated Michigan State athletes as well as young gymnasts, some who traveled from several counties over with their parents to seek medical treatment from the same doctor who worked with the United States’ Olympic heroes.

But 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.

“I have been told it is virtually impossible to stop a determined sexual predator and pedophile, that they will go to incomprehensible lengths to keep what they do in the shadows,” Simon told Michigan State trustees in early 2017, as criticism from Nassar victims mounted.

The university’s trustees maintained support for Simon, and her stance, until January, when an extraordinary seven-day, televised sentencing hearing garnered national attention to horrific stories of Nassar’s abuse and the damage it wrought. Simon resigned the day a Michigan judge sentenced Nassar to 40-to-175 years for his 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 USOC, USA Gymnastics and the Karolyis. Congressional investigations continue, as well as law enforcement investigations in Michigan and Texas, where the Karolyis’ ranch is located.

“These woman 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.”

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