State Rep. Ryan Berman, joined by survivors of sexual abuse at U-M and MSU, introduces bipartisan Empowering Survivors legislative package as University of Michigan sexual abuse crisis comes on heels of Larry Nassar scandal
Survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of former University of Michigan Physician Robert Anderson would be further empowered under state law to pursue damages against the school under new bipartisan legislation introduced in the Michigan Legislature today by state Reps. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.) and Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit).
Berman, who announced the “Empowering Survivors” legislative package this morning, said that the Robert Anderson scandal has grown to the point that it must be addressed with legislative reforms, just as the Larry Nassar scandal at Michigan State University was previously.
“Many survivors of abuse at the hands of disgraced U-M Dr. Robert Anderson are pursuing justice and we must empower them, and any additional survivors who come forward, to pursue some level of justice in a court of law,” said Berman. “With these reforms, we will help ensure that survivors of abuse are supported in their fight against abusers and anyone who protected abusers.”
Berman was joined at the announcement by survivors of abuse at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, including: former U-M students and football players Jon Vaughn and Dr. John Lott as well as former U-M student and wrestler Tad DeLuca.
“My love and sacrifice for Michigan should not be questioned,” Vaughn said. “Though it crushes me, I will not be silent or complicit with the wrongdoing. We must concentrate on the truth. Whether you are a victim, the Michigan administration, the Big 10 Conference, or the NCAA, this perverse culture of abuse must stop.”
“The University of Michigan failed to be the leader and the best,” DeLuca said. “However, the State of Michigan now has the chance to be the leaders and the best, and show the country that the State of Michigan refuses to allow medical providers to sexually abuse patients under the guise of medical treatment.”
Said Lott: “As a former Michigan football captain, I feel I have the responsibility to speak for those whom are unable to speak for themselves. The abuse we suffered at the hands of Dr. Anderson was both traumatic and preventable. It’s time for the University of Michigan to right this horrible wrong.”
The two bills seek to retroactively empower survivors to file suit for damages.
- Under the governmental immunity reform bill (Berman – HB 6238), a school’s ability to claim immunity from tort claims would be curtailed when the abuse occurred under the guise of medical care and the school knew or should have known.
- And, under the statute of limitations reform bill (Whitsett – HB 6237), a new one-year window for filing suit by those abused in the past under the guise of medical care is created, similar to the 90-day window previously allowed by state law for Nassar survivors.
Universities are generally immune from tort claims under Michigan law, although one exemption is a claim arising from medical care. To stop universities from opposing lawsuits by characterizing sexual assaults as something other the medical care, Berman’s bill empowers survivors to sue if the assault occurred under the guise of being provided medical care or if the governmental unit or its employee was aware – or should have been aware – about the sexual assaults but failed to act to stop ones in the future.
To make it more difficult for a school to attempt to dismiss survivors by claiming they should have known about the abuse at the time and therefore are subject to the standard three-year statute of limitations, this reform further empowers survivors to file suit damages by opening a retroactive one-year window after the bill’s passage for criminal sexual assault victims to file suit against any person to recover damages. The window applies to CSC assaults occurring under the guise of medical treatment determined to be unethical or the predator was in a position of authority over the victim, such as a physician.
Nassar survivors were previously allowed a similar special window under state law.
State Rep. Ryan Berman, of Commerce Township, today said the suspects who allegedly planned to abduct and harm Gov. Gretchen Whitmer must face the full force of the law. Berman also thanked law enforcement for acting quickly before tragedy struck.