Michigan Weighs Overhauling Time Sex Assault Victims Have to Sue Following Nassar Scandal

Lawmakers in Michigan are considering multiple bills dealing with sexual assault cases that could allow victims more time to sue for damages in the aftermath of the bombshell molestation scandal at the University of Michigan, the Associated Press reported.

The Legislature is considering overhauling existing laws for the second time since 2018. Lawmakers enacted similar legislation after Larry Nassar was convicted of sexually abusing hundreds of female athletes under the false pretense of medical treatment, including at Michigan State University.

The new measures would clear a pathway for victims of the late Dr. Robert Anderson at the University of Michigan to bring lawsuits previously barred by the statute of limitations. The immunity defense would no longer be viable if government entities knew or should have known of an accused's prior sexual misconduct and did not intervene.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Michigan Statute Laws
Michigan lawmakers are poised to consider bipartisan bills aimed at helping potentially thousands of sex abuse victims sue for damages. Above, Jon Vaughn, a University of Michigan football player from 1988 to 1991, speaks during a news conference in Ann Arbor on June 16, 2021. Paul Sancya File/AP Photo

Similar government immunity legislation stalled three years ago—after Michigan State agreed to a $500 million settlement for Nassar's victims—amid pushback from universities, schools, municipalities, businesses and the Catholic Church over the financial implications of facing an unknown number of suits for old allegations.

"These survivors deserve their day in court," said state Representative Ryan Berman, a Republican from Oakland County's Commerce Township who is sponsoring the immunity bill.

The House Oversight Committee on Thursday will hold the first of likely multiple hearings on the measures. Among those expected to testify are former University of Michigan wrestler Tad DeLuca and football player Jon Vaughn.

"They get to tell their stories. I think they're so brave for doing that," said state Representative Karen Whitsett, a Detroit Democrat whose bill would open a one-year window for sex assault victims to sue retroactively, regardless of the time limit.

In 2018, the law was changed so Nassar victims could sue retroactively and people who were sexually abused as children could pursue legal action until their 28th birthday or three years from when they realize they have been abused.

Whitsett's legislation would expand the option to adults and let them file suit until whenever is later: 10 years from when the claim accrues, their 28th birthday or six years—instead of three—from when they realize they have been abused.

"We need to empower survivors. They need to have a platform to be heard on. They need the tools to be able to do that," she said.

The University of Michigan has acknowledged that assaults occurred. A report by a law firm hired by the school found that officials failed to stop Anderson, especially in the 1970s, despite hearing about assaults. The university is in mediation with lawyers who are seeking a financial settlement for at least 850 people, mostly men.

Attorneys who have sued say the statute of limitations can be paused because the school "fraudulently concealed" the abuse for years. But the bills could provide the victims more certainty and increase pressure for a resolution.

"It will help the U of M victims. But it will also help so many men and women out there who may have been abused by a medical professional where, because of the knowledge imbalance between a doctor and patient, may not have found out or realized it for a number of years later," said Mike Cox, a former Michigan attorney general who is representing more than 150 of the plaintiffs.