USC agrees to $852M settlement in sex abuse suit

By Stefanie Dazio | Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The University of Southern California has agreed to an $852 million settlement with more than 700 women who have accused the college’s longtime campus gynecologist of sexual abuse, the victims’ lawyers and USC announced Thursday.

It’s believed to be a record amount for such a lawsuit. When combined with an earlier settlement of a separate class-action suit and other, smaller state court settlements, USC has agreed to pay out more than $1 billion for claims against Dr. George Tyndall, who worked at the school for nearly three decades.

Tyndall, 74, faces 35 criminal counts of alleged sexual misconduct between 2009 and 2016 at the university’s student health center. He has pleaded not guilty and is free on bond.

(Editor’s note: This story includes discussion of sexual assault. If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.)

Hundreds of women came forward to report their allegations to police but some of the cases fell outside the 10-year criminal statute of limitations, while others did not rise to the level of charges or lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute. Still, he faces up to 64 years in prison if convicted.

“I am deeply sorry for the pain experienced by these valued members of the USC community,” USC President Carol L. Folt said in a statement. “We appreciate the courage of all who came forward and hope this much needed resolution provides some relief to the women abused by George Tyndall.”

Several victims on Thursday called for criminal charges to be filed against USC administrators who knew of the allegations against Tyndall for decades and did not fire him. Folt took office later, in 2019, as part of an overhaul of USC leadership amid the unfolding gynecologist and college entrance bribery scandals. USC and its insurers will cover the cost of the settlements.

The $852 million civil settlement is believed to be the largest sexual abuse settlement against any university, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, as well as the largest personal injury settlement against any college or university.

Its size is, in part, because a 2019 state law temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for certain sexual assault lawsuits, which meant patients could sue over their appointments with Tyndall dating back to the 1990s. The plaintiffs’ attorneys said the $852 million settlement includes claims between 1989 and 2016 — a generation of women at USC — and patients as young as 17 years old.

“I saw him in 1990 and none of these women here should have ever seen him after I saw Dr. Tyndall,” said Audry Nafziger, a USC law school graduate who is now a sex crimes prosecutor in Ventura County, during a news conference with other victims Thursday. “Like many, I was inexperienced in what a gynecological exam would entail. So when he closed the door and locked it, I thought it was odd but what did I know?”

Tyndall was deposed for the settlement and largely invoked his rights against self-incrimination in answers, the plaintiff’s lawyers said. While he signed the settlement, he did not contribute any money toward it and did not admit to any wrongdoing.

“Dr. Tyndall continues to deny that he has engaged in any misconduct,” said Leonard Levine, Tyndall’s attorney. “He has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges and remains confident that when the allegations are tested in court in a jury trial, he will be totally exonerated.”

In 2018, Michigan State University agreed to pay $500 million to settle claims from more than 300 women and girls who said they were assaulted by sports doctor Larry Nassar. That settlement was considered the largest at the time, far surpassing the $100 million-plus paid by Penn State University to settle claims by at least 35 people who accused assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky of sexual abuse.

Separately, USC earlier agreed to pay $215 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that applies to about 18,000 women who were patients of Tyndall’s. The individual payouts to those victims range from $2,500 to $250,000, and were given regardless of whether the women formally accused Tyndall of harassment or assault. The final payouts are expected to be issued this month.

Allegations against Tyndall first surfaced in 2018 in an investigation by the Los Angeles Times, which revealed that the doctor had been the subject of complaints of sexual misconduct at USC dating back to the 1990s.

He wasn’t suspended until 2016, when a nurse reported him to a rape crisis center. He was able to quietly resign with a large payout the next year.

Tyndall surrendered his medical license in September 2019, records show.

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Author: The Associated Press