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Michigan Considers Extension For Lawsuits Naming Late Doctor

Bentley Historical Library Courtesy Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
University of Michigan

Two Michigan lawmakers sought Wednesday to expand the state’s statute of limitations for some sexual assault cases to allow more time for accusers of the late sports doctor Robert Anderson to file lawsuits against the University of Michigan.

State Reps. Ryan Berman, a Commerce Township Republican, and Karen Whitsett, a Detroit Democrat, were joined by men who shared stories of Anderson sexually abusing them, to discuss the bills on the Capitol steps.

Anderson worked at the university from the mid-1960s through 2003. The university believes he assaulted athletes during routine physicals and injury exams. He died in 2008. The school has expressed a willingness to compensate victims outside court with the help of a mediator. But at the same time, the school is seeking to have lawsuits dismissed because too many years have passed.

The bills would alter Michigan’s statute of limitations on lawsuits involving criminal sexual conduct and limit the immunity for governmental units such as a university if it was aware or failed to stop sexual abuse. The changes would not just apply to those abused at the University of Michigan but anyone sexually abused under the guise of medical treatment.

The legislation would create a retroactive one-year window, upon being signed into law, to file the suit. Survivors would normally have a three-year statute of limitations to file a suit saying the university knew about the abuse.

Similar extensions were offered to the survivors of ex-Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar. They were given a special 90-day window under state law.

Berman and Whitsett both spoke about the importance of giving survivors the time to seek justice. Whitsett shared that she is a survivor of sexual assault who did not report the incident due to fear and shame.

“The shame, humiliation, self-blaming, it takes years for a victim traumatized by sexual assault to address this before they come forward to report the crime, if they ever do,” Whitsett said. “By extending the statute of limitations to give victims time to seek counseling, we build a support system so that they are willing to come forward by bringing their predators to justice.”

Jon Vaughn, a University of Michigan student and member of the football team in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said he was sexually abused by Anderson but did not realize he had survived sexual abuse until this year. He trusted his coaches and doctors to put his health and safety first and is angry the university did not stop the abuse.

A former associate vice president of student services at the university knew about the sexual abuse and attempted to fire Anderson in 1980, a revised complaint in a federal lawsuit against the university alleges. According to testimony in the document, the vice president of student services at the time allowed Anderson to remain working at the university despite being aware of Anderson’s abuse.

“This effort will help all of us to obtain some level of justice and hold the University of Michigan accountable,” Vaughn said. “We are not John and Jane Does. We are sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. We’re teammates, but most importantly, we are survivors and we would no longer be anonymous.”

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