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Legal expert examines MSU’s potential civil and criminal liabilities in Nassar scandal

Jan 23, 2018

Larry Nassar
Credit Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

USA Gymnastics’ top board members have resigned. Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon is being pressured to resign. And there are calls for reviews and investigations into how a sports doctor could sexually abuse girls and women for so long, while no one was aware or willing to speak up.

How could these adults and these institutions fail so many children?

Some of this will be determined in the courts. Sports Illustrated ran a piece a few days ago looking at the legal implications.

Michael McCann, an attorney and legal analyst for Sports Illustrated, wrote that piece. He joined Stateside today to walk us through the legal implications of the Larry Nassar scandal.

Listen above for the full conversation or catch highlights below.

Potential additional consequences Nassar will have to face

"The number of years that he ultimately is sentenced to could eclipse 200 years. In addition, he faces the possibility, and most likely will at some point, be assigned civil liability for what he did. Civil liability would reflect the negligent and other forms of unlawful acts that he committed. In terms of civil liability, the punishment would be some kind of monetary award. He has co-defendants in those lawsuits, including of course Michigan State and USA Gymnastics. They would likely have to foot the most of any bill.”

Grounds for MSU lawsuit dismissal

"Michigan University is arguing in part something based on 'sovereign immunity,' a legal principle which says: the government, branches of the government, government-funded entities like public universities are exempt from being sued unless they agree to be sued. But in Michigan, as in other states, there is a bevy of exceptions. Michigan State argues that none of the exceptions clearly apply here and they are represented by Patrick Fitzgerald. The university knows that this is a litigation that not only could lead to millions of dollars in damages to the school, it could also lead to criminal charges against individual persons at this school."

Effects of non-disclosure agreements

"At least one person appears to have signed a non-disclosure agreement with USA Gymnastics, McKayla Maroney, a retired Olympic gold medalist. It’s important here because non-disclosure agreements can silence those who have very valuable information to share and that can prevent others from being victimized. But the flip of that argument is that she knowingly signed that agreement, she was paid according to The Wall Street Journal $1.25 million, so she has a contractual obligation. It’s hard because a lot of people don't like this idea that contracts can silence victims but generally the law enforces those contracts."

The NCAA's response to Michigan State

"The NCAA got involved in the Sandusky matter. That was unprecedented, and the NCAA constitution does offer very sweeping language in terms of institutional control. It clearly could apply that language to Michigan State and if it’s consistent with how it treated Penn State, it would impose some type of similar punishment."

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