© 2023 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Michigan To Give Sexual Abuse Victims More Time To Sue

Larry Nassar photo
WKAR file photo

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign into law bills inspired by the Larry Nassar scandal, including one approved Tuesday that would give childhood sexual abuse victims more time to sue.

The current cutoff to file a lawsuit in Michigan is generally a minor victim's 19th birthday, which critics say is out of step with the laws in other states and does not account for how many victims are afraid to report abuse or have suppressed it.

On a 34-2 vote, the Republican-led state Senate gave final approval to a measure that would allow people who were sexually abused as children to sue until their 28th birthdays or three years from when they realized they had been abused. Nassar victims would get a 90-day window to sue retroactively, leading some state senators from both parties to reluctantly vote for the legislation after the state House scaled backed the retroactively provision to not include other victims abused as children since 1997.

"These bills have been whittled down to only provide justice for certain survivors. We owe every single survivor access to justice," said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., an East Lansing Democrat whose district includes Michigan State University.

As part of a $500 million settlement with Michigan State, the imprisoned sports doctor's former employer, his hundreds of accusers agreed to withdraw their support for measures that would have eliminated the immunity defense in lawsuits for entities that are negligent in the hiring, supervision or training of employees, or if the governmental agencies knew or should have known and failed to report sexual misconduct to law enforcement. The Catholic Church, universities, governments, businesses and nonprofits had pushed back against some bills, citing concerns about being unfairly able to defend themselves against decades-old claims.

"A real opportunity was missed to walk the talk," said Sen. Margaret O'Brien, a Portage Republican who joined with Nassar victims in unveiling the measures months ago. "Legislators say we care about kids, yet this package limits their ability to address their predator. And if it's a kid in government care, there's even less ability to correct that harm."

Snyder is also expected to sign legislation that was passed unanimously Tuesday that would give prosecutors 15 years or until a victim's 28th birthday to file charges in second- and third-degree sexual conduct cases if the victim was younger than 18. The deadline currently is 10 years or a victim's 21st birthday, whichever is later.

Charges could be filed at any time if there were DNA evidence.

There already is no statute of limitations for first-degree sexual misconduct, which can result in life imprisonment and for which Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to molesting nine girls in the Lansing area under the guise of treatment.

More than two dozen other Nassar-related bills that first won passage in the House last week will be referred to a Senate committee, whose chairman plans to hold two hearings and vote next week. State Sen. Rick Jones, a Grand Ledge Republican, again expressed disappointment that a measure to expand the state's list of mandatory reporters of child abuse would not include paid coaches after some Nassar victims said nothing happened when they told coaches of his inappropriate touching years ago.

He said he may amend the bill to add coaches in, as was initially proposed by the Senate.

"I can understand some objection to the volunteers for T-ball. But when it comes to paid coaches, most of them very highly paid coaches, my goodness. They should report like everybody else," he said.

Related Content
Did you know that 40% of Michigan third graders have trouble with reading? Join WKAR in our efforts to increase youth literacy. Every donation of $60 or more provides a reading kit to a child in our community, and funds another year of local journalism. Donate today!