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Have USA Gymnastics and Abuse Survivors Agreed on a Proposed Settlement?

Young women who fell victim to sexual abuse at the hands of Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar, a long-time team doctor for the United States women’s gymnastics team, received some welcomed news. 

On August 31, it was announced that a proposed settlement of $425 million to settle claims between United States Gymnastics and hundreds of Nassar’s victims has been filed and is moving forward through the legal process. Both sides are aiming to see final approval by the end of the year.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, women's artistic gymnastics

Nassar, who also had a sports medicine practice on the campus of Michigan State University, was convicted of multiple sex crimes in 2018 and is currently serving back-to-back sentences that should keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Many of his victims were younger than 13 when the abuse occurred, and some of his victims were the most elite gymnasts in the world, including Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman.

In 2018, during Nassar’s sentencing hearing in Ingham County, Michigan, dozens of victims appeared in the courtroom, sharing their stories while face-to-face with their abuser. The testimonies went on for weeks, and once they were complete, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who presided over the hearing, handed down her sentence. As she gave Nassar a sentence of 40 to 175 years in prison, Aquilina did not mince words saying that being the judge that sentenced Nassar was her “honor and privilege.”

Aquilina also told the former doctor, “I wouldn’t send my dogs to you, sir.”

By the end of 2018, USA Gymnastics filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to protect itself from the mounting number of lawsuits involving Nassar.

In exchange for accepting the new proposed settlement, the survivors must agree to end claims against USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and Bela and Martha Karolyi, whose Karolyi Ranch was identified as a place where many victims were abused over the years. 

The settlement agreement also includes more requirements for USA Gymnastics. The organization will be required to put more safety measures in place, including having gym clubs post information on walls on how to report sexual abuse as well as requiring gym personnel to complete “Safe Sport” training when minors are involved.

The settlement proposal, filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana, must be approved by the survivors and any other creditors before it can take effect. Once it does, the organization can most likely emerge from bankruptcy.

In an announcement released after the settlement proposal was filed, USA Gymnastics officials stated, “After extensive discussions, this plan has been jointly proposed by USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and it is supported by many of the involved insurers. We anticipate that this plan will be confirmed later this year and greatly appreciate all parties’ efforts to get to this point.”

Although the proposed settlement is seen as good news, there are concerns that USA Gymnastics will not be able to provide the funding the settlement requires. 

For its part, the USOPC made a direct appeal to the particular insurers who have not committed to funding a settlement. In its statement after the announcement, the USOPC said, “Under the new plan, the USOPC will contribute substantially to the compensation of the survivors. There are, unfortunately, some insurance carriers that continue to withhold support for this plan, and we urge these carriers – in the strongest terms – to join the rest of the parties in supporting the plan’s fair resolution for the victims and survivors of abuse.” 

This would be the second payout resulting from Nassar’s actions. Michigan State University agreed to pay $500-million to more than 300 females who were sexually abused there.

Nassar, 57, is currently serving a 60-year federal prison sentence for child pornography charges. In addition to the Ingham County sentencing, Nassar was also sentenced to 125 years in Eaton County.