An electronic publication of Survivors And Victims Empowered October 29, 2013
$60 million payout to Sandusky victims called ‘another step forward’; 6 claims still open…
Penn State announced Monday that it has completed settlement agreements with 26 men who claimed to have been sexually abused as youths by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Harrisburg Patriot-News article here
The claims were settled for a total payout of $59.7 million, the university said.
Individual settlement amounts are not being released because of confidentiality agreements.
Monday’s announcement is in keeping with a resolution passed unanimously by trustees in July authorizing the university’s mediators to execute final settlement agreements.
At that time, trustees said about $60 million had been allocated for the claims.
“We hope this is another step forward in the healing process for those hurt by Mr. Sandusky, and another step forward for Penn State,” President Rodney Erickson said.
“We cannot undo what had been done, but we can and must do everything possible to learn from this and ensure it never happens agains at Penn State.”
Sandusky, former head football coach Joe Paterno’s longtime defensive coordinator, was convicted in June 2012 of serially abusing 10 boys that he initially met through his youth charity, The Second Mile, from 1994 through 2008.
He is now serving a 30-year minimum state prison term.
The settlements reached this summer, however, involve many more victims and apparently date back to the 1970s.
Because Sandusky was in Penn State’s employ for much of that time, and because the Freeh Report on Penn State’s handling of the scandal has concluded top university leaders did not move aggressively against him when early allegations came to light, trustees made a decision last year to try to strike settlements without putting claimants through new fights.
In all, Penn State received and vetted claims from 32 persons through its mediation process.
At least three of the six remaining claims have been rejected as being without merit.
Sources familiar with the talks said two others – so-called Victims 6 and 9 from Sandusky’s criminal trial – remain in negotiation.
Penn State mediator Michael Rozen noted in August that, to that point, claimant expectations in both of those cases “differ dramatically from both my and the university’s impressions of what is fair and reasonable under the circumstances.
“And, we now have ample evidence of what is reasonable to a lot of other people.”
The average award of just less than $1.4 million per victim, after attorneys fees, is well in excess of the top $825,000 per award in settlements reached by the Roman Catholic Church in America for cases involving 25 or more claimants as reported by the watchdog group Bishop Accountability.
There are reasons for that.
Many church claims, lawyers involved in those cases have noted, involve dioceses that petitioned or threatened to petition for bankruptcy. Victims, faced with the alternative of waiting out that long process just to get into court, were often tempted to take a somewhat smaller check today.
Bankruptcy was never an option for Penn State, for whom $60 million is not a fiscal game-changer.
All this is not to say that Penn State is completely laying down on this issue, at least from a fiscal standpoint.
The university hopes to recoup at least half of the dollars it is paying out now from its own liability insurers, or those that provided coverage to the now-defunct Second Mile.
Penn State is currently locked in a court fight with its primary liability insurer, Pennsylvania Manufacturers Insurance Co., over PMA’s obligation to cover for Sandusky’s acts.
In the interim, however, Penn State has said it has identified at least $51 million, mostly from interest on loans to units like the athletic department or the medical school in Hershey, that it can apply to the Sandusky settlements.
If more is needed, officials have said they are prepared to modify future capital spending plans to find the difference.
The funds will not, university officials repeated Monday, come from student tuition revenue, taxpayer funds or private donations.
Whether the insurance claims are successful or not, some trustees have also cited the intangible benefit of not having to fight multiple court battles that would keep the Sandusky case in headlines in several different media markets for years.
Far better, they said, to be on the side of doing right by Sandusky’s victims.
Erickson, in his statement today, seemed to echo that sentiment.
He said the settlements, along with the administration’s successful implementation of most of the policy and procedure changes recommended in the Freeh Report, are positive signs of Penn State’s attempts to meet its problems head-on and with good faith.
“Our university is a better institution today,” he said.