(The Center Square) – Bipartisan bills announced Wednesday aim to break barriers to suing state university employees accused of sexual assault, including former University of Michigan physician Robert Anderson.
Reps. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Township, and Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, announced House Bills 6237 and 6238 – dubbed the Empowering Survivors package – from the Capitol steps Wednesday.
The lawmakers were joined by sexual abuse survivors, including former U-M football players Jon Vaughn and Dr. John Lott and former U-M wrestler Tad DeLuca.
"I will continue my fight for justice for all victims," said Vaughn, who played football from 1988 to 1990. "I will not be silenced. I will fight for all those who feel they do not have a voice.”
The two bills seek to ease hurdles for survivors to sue for damages.
Universities are typically immune from tort claims, with one notable exemption being negligent or abusive medical care.
In the case of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, the university claimed the doctor was sexually assaulting victims instead of providing medical care to keep their immunity.
HB 6238 aims to reform governmental immunity by revoking a school’s ability to claim legal immunity when the abuse occurred under the guise of medical care and the school knew or should have known, but failed to act to stop future instances.
Whitsett’s HB 6237 aims to reform the statute of limitations to open a one-year window to filing suit by those abused under the guise of medical care, similar to the 90-day window created under state law for those abused by Nassar.
The extra time aims to ease the three-year statute of limitations after abuse, applicable if survivors knew about the abuse at the time.
Whitsett, another victim of sexual abuse, shared common fears about why sexual abuse often isn’t reported, including shame, humiliation and blame.
"I didn't want to be blamed. Did I put myself in the wrong position? Was it my fault for being there?" she asked. “Did I make this happen?"
She added: "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."
The time window gives “a reasonable period of time for people to be able to go and get access to justice,” Berman told reporters.
Berman said he hopes the legislature can enact the bills into law this legislative session.