Proposed Bills Could Create Path for 1,000 Abuse Victims to Sue University of Michigan

New bills have been announced that will be considered by Michigan's state Senate later this month that could allow around 1,000 sexual abuse victims of Robert Anderson, a doctor at the University of Michigan from the late 1960s to 2003 who abused hundreds of student-athletes, to sue the school for physical and emotional damages.

The bills, the second set to be proposed in the last several months, would create a 30-day window that would disregard the statute of limitations to allow for lawsuits to be filed against the university. The school would not be allowed to invoke government immunity as a defense.

Anderson, who retired from the university in 2003 and died in 2008, was found by a law firm hired by the university to have abused hundreds during his time there, and school officials were found to have missed several opportunities to address it and fire him when complaints were raised by students.

The bills come years after similar legislation was enacted that allowed victims of former Michigan State University and Team USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar to sue Michigan State. MSU later agreed to a $500 million settlement with the hundreds of victims who brought suits against the university.

Republican state Sen. Tom Barrett, one of the leaders of the new legislation, said UM has publicly acknowledged the abuse as well as its failures to act on it. Barrett also said Anderson's victims have the same rights as Nassar's to seek compensation from the school.

University Michigan, Robert Anderson, Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
A sign referring to former University of Michigan sports doctor Robert Anderson is on display at a vigil for survivors of sexual abuse in front of the home of outgoing UM President Mark Schlissel Oct. 13, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Legislation announced Tuesday by Michigan state Senators would allow at least 1,000 of Anderson's victims to sue the university for damages stemming from his abuse. Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

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 Nassar, who molested hundreds of girls and women, including at Michigan State University.

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.

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, Barrett said.

"We are obliged to provide a path forward to justice for the victims," Barrett said.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.