Penn State has agreed to pay $59.7 million to 26 sexual abuse victims of the former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in exchange for an end to their claims against the university, Penn State announced Monday.
Of the 26 settlements, 23 are fully signed and three are agreed to in principle, with final documentation expected in the next few weeks.
Rodney A. Erickson, the president of the university, called the settlement “another step forward in the healing process for those hurt by Mr. Sandusky, and another step forward for Penn State.”
He added, “We cannot undo what has been done, but we can and must do everything possible to learn from this and ensure it never happens again at Penn State.”
University officials emphasized that the settlement money did not come from tuition, taxpayers or donations, but from various liability insurance policies, which the university believes will cover the settlements and defense of claims brought against Penn State and its officers, employees and trustees. Whatever is not covered is expected to be financed from interest revenue related to loans made by the university to its self-supporting units. The settlements are sealed by confidentiality agreements.
In all, the university has been in talks with 32 individuals who were victims of Sandusky or claimed to be. In a statement, the university said some of the six remaining claims were without merit and others were in possible settlement discussions. The university retained the law firm Feinberg Rozen L.L.P. to act as an independent third-party facilitator of the settlement negotiations between the university and the victims.
“The board of trustees has had as one of its primary objectives to reach settlements in a way that is fair and respects the privacy of the individuals involved,” Keith E. Masser, the board’s chairman, said in a statement.
Clifford Rieders, a lawyer who negotiated one of the settlements, said the average payout matched other recent cases of child abuse, such as those involving the Roman Catholic Church. The amount of payment for each of Sandusky’s victims, however, was decided on individual claims. Eight young men testified against Sandusky at his trial, describing abuse at his hand when they were boys that included psychological manipulation, fondling, oral sex and anal rape.
Rieders said his client received a “substantial” settlement and asked for, and received, a face-to-face-meeting with a top university official whom he would not identify. He said his client had an emotional exchange with the official about “how to make things right,” including noneconomic reparations, which included continued counseling.
“You can never make whole anyone who is raped by another individual,” Rieders said. “My client found the settlement acceptable under the circumstances.”
Jeff Anderson, a lawyer for two victims, said his clients were focused on Penn State’s changes to prevent future abuse.
“They wanted to see new training and protocols before we got to the numbers,” Anderson said. “Over all, it was a very mixed feeling and experience for them. They broke the silence and stood up to the man who overpowered them. At the same time, there’s some deep and open wounds that can’t be closed or healed. They’ve gotten the voice back they didn’t have as kids, but it isn’t a celebration or victory.”
Sandusky, 69, is serving a 30 to 60-year state prison sentence. He was convicted in June 2012 of abusing 10 boys, some of them at Penn State sites. All of the children were from disadvantaged homes. Sandusky, using his access to the university football program, had befriended the children and then repeatedly violated them. He was found guilty of 45 of the 48 counts against him.
The scandal led to the dismissal in 2011 of Penn State’s head football coach, Joe Paterno, who died in January 2012. Three former Penn State administrators await trial on charges that they were part of a criminal cover-up of the Sandusky scandal. The former president Graham B. Spanier, the retired vice president Gary Schultz and the retired athletic director Tim Curley have denied the accusations.
Over the past year, Penn State has moved aggressively to put the scandal behind it with reforms to the university’s management and oversight. The football program initially received heavy penalties from the N.C.A.A. But last month, citing a positive report by George J. Mitchell, the former United States senator who was appointed athletics integrity monitor at Penn State, the organization decided to ease the penalties.
The Penn State football team, for example, will be allowed to issue 20 scholarships to recruits, instead of 15, starting the next academic year, then the standard 25 starting the year after that. As a whole, the team will be able to offer 75 scholarships, instead of 65, starting next year, and that number will increase until it reaches the standard 85 by the 2016-17 academic year. The team is still banned from bowl games for three more seasons.
Victims advocate groups have been less forgiving.
“No amount of money can restore the innocence that was taken from the victims,” said Barbara Dorris, a spokeswoman for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. “It’s only because of their generosity and courage in speaking up that Sandusky was removed from his powerful position.”
On the day Sandusky was convicted, Erickson pledged that the university was determined to compensate the victims and put into place a system of control that would prevent a similar scandal from happening again.
“We have made great strides, but a great deal of work remains,” Erickson said Monday “Our university is a better institution today as a result of the work and dedication of our trustees, administrators, faculty, staff and students.”
© The New York Times