An examination of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University's potential civil liabilities in Dr. Nassar scandal
By: Patrick Salvi II
CHICAGO (January 29, 2018) – The vulnerable people in our communities need partners to stand with them in the fight for justice. As a nation of laws, we have both civil and criminal courts for pursuing justice, but all too frequently, the cards get stacked against the victims when fighting against powerful foes in either of these forums.
Recently, we saw victims band together in partnership to fight the injustices perpetrated by Dr. Larry Nassar. Their strength led to a very long jail sentence accompanied by a profound message from the presiding judge. No longer could his abuse of young women continue, though the abuse lasted for far too long.
Whether it’s a corporation deliberately foregoing safety protocol to boost profits or a hospital ignoring a patient without good health insurance, wrongdoers must be exposed and held accountable. As in the case of Dr. Larry Nassar, wrongdoers oftentimes have accomplices. Would Dr. Nassar have been allowed to harm so many women over so many years but for the silence of many other individuals who knew or should have known something was going on? While such folks may or may not have criminal liability, these individuals and the entities they serve do indeed face potential civil liability for their reckless silence or, worse, intentional cover up. While Dr. Nassar will deservedly spend the rest of his life in prison, many of his protectors will face no such criminal action.
Here is where the civil justice system comes into play. Anyone who has a duty to protect people, like the women abused by Dr. Nassar, must fulfill his or her duty. The duty may be to protect women from such abuses, or perhaps, the duty was to ensure that someone like Dr. Nassar be discovered and immediately terminated with information passed on to the police. Many legal duties exist in our daily lives, like keeping property that we own safe for people or driving carefully. This includes, for some at USA Gymnastics or Michigan State University, a duty to the vulnerable members of society with whom they came into contact during their daily affairs so that any predator was caught before predation. What happened at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University was abhorrent, and the hope is that the civil justice system is at least one deterrent of evildoing and at least one of the ways victims can seek the justice they deserve. Many lives have been nearly ruined, with young women’s psyches badly harmed or destroyed by this disturbed and empowered man. But, there is reason for hope.
Criminal penalties have been imposed – as many as 175 years in prison. But to truly root out the problem, the enablers must be brought to justice. The root cause must be exposed. It cannot be too inconvenient or too messy to speak up, but rather, too expensive. The civil justice system makes it too expensive, because the lives of these young women are priceless, just like the lives of all human beings. To watch idly by as their dignity and respect was taken from them was simply not acceptable, and something for which the 7th Amendment of the constitution was written – to ensure a trial by the jury of our peers to set straight what is and what is not acceptable behavior in our communities.
There are likely more shoes to drop, as Dr. Nassar’s actions were not made possible solely by the demons of one man but rather by the inaction of many. The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice; in part, because we have a strong civil justice system to help us.