USC reaches proposed $215 million settlement in Tyndall sexual abuse case

The University agreed to a three-tiered settlement that gives victims who come forward in federal court an automatic $2,500. Those who are willing to offer more information can receive up to $250,000.  (Daily Trojan file photo)

USC agreed to a $215-million settlement for a class action lawsuit brought by victims of former campus gynecologist George Tyndall on Friday, according to a letter from Interim President Wanda Austin. The settlement addresses the federal class action lawsuit brought against USC, but not state court claims.

The proposed settlement will provide all members of the class action — former patients of Tyndall — with a minimum compensation of $2,500, and individuals willing to disclose additional details can receive up to $250,000, the letter stated.

“I hope that [this settlement] provides a sense of being heard and a sense of progress,” Austin said in an interview with the Daily Trojan and USC Annenberg Media Friday. “I hope that [the victims] see in this action a commitment to address individually and as a group that we are very concerned and want to make sure that they get the very best of care anywhere in our community.”

While an agreement on USC’s settlement has been reached, it has not been filed in federal court yet, according to a University spokesperson.

“Former patients who already have state court claims pending can of course continue to pursue those,” said University counsel Tara Lee. “The federal class action settlement proposal has a tiered settlement structure within it, so that individuals who had different experiences can go through a [different settlement] process.”

Austin wrote that the Board of Trustees supports the settlement, which was reached in collaboration with the plaintiffs’ counsel.

Patients who underwent gynecological examinations by Tyndall will receive compensation of $2,500 with no requests of further information about the patients’ experience. Those who submit a written claim about their experiences with Tyndall may receive an additional compensation of $7,500 to $20,000. Patients who agree to a private interview with a licensed psychologist can receive additional compensation of $7,500 to $250,000.

A court-approved independent official will review claims to determine payments.

“We think that we have been able to negotiate for a substantial amount of money for these women,” said Annika Martin, who represents multiple victims and helped reach the settlement with USC. “No money can truly compensate victims of these kinds of horrible acts.”

Along with the $215-million settlement, Martin said that the agreement also ensures USC will implement new policies to establish protocol during examinations. The agreement will also include ways to properly report inappropriate behavior safely and confidentially, according to Martin.

“With any class action settlement, [attorneys] have the option to opt out of the settlement and to continue their individual litigation [in state court],” Martin said. “But, we hope that they would read the settlement agreement and make a decision based on that, whether they want to pursue it or not.”

Some attorneys who are serving as counsel for the state class action against USC have expressed frustration with the settlement. Claims filed in state court were not addressed in the settlement.

Attorney Gloria Allred called the federal settlement “a nuisance amount” that will not properly compensate victims for their suffering.

“We are continuing to vigorously litigate our state cases for numerous victims, and we will insist that each of our clients be properly compensated for what they were forced to endure which for many of our clients is expected to be far in excess of what individuals in the class action will receive,” Allred wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan.

Mike Arias, who represents over 80 victims in state cases, said the settlement was unsupported in reasoning. He said that Board of Trustees Chairman Rick Caruso’s goal of reaching a settlement quickly and effectively does not benefit the victims and instead keeps them quiet.

“The first settlement is an attempt to try to limit the rights of many of these women victims,” Arias said. “I’m very disappointed because I thought … that they were going to do it promptly and look for change for proper solutions, but without all the information necessary to evaluate that … nothing is really happening.”

Attorney Andy Rubenstein said the proposed settlement doesn’t hold the University accountable for its actions and that the lack of institutional change will only allow more abuse to happen in the future.

“The proposed settlement announced today from USC is laughable,” Rubenstein wrote in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “To come to this agreement before a single document was produced or a deposition was taken, is an insult to the survivors of Dr. Tyndall, many of whom have suffered in silence for decades.”

In a separate letter to the USC community on Friday, Caruso wrote that the University is still undergoing its independent investigation of Engemann Student Health Center. He explained that the next months will focus on the presidential search, and the Special Committee on Governance Reform will continue to examine the Board’s operations to better engage the USC community.

“My fellow Trustees and I also pledged to ensure a cultural shift within the University that places the safety of students and patients as our top priority,” he wrote.

Both Caruso and Austin’s letters referred to a summary of University actions taken since  sexual abuse allegations against Tyndall broke out mid-May, which primarily focused on Engemann.

All student health care providers are now hired through the Keck School of Medicine, which conducts an extensive background check for new hires. Along with an online reporting mechanism for health care providers, USC created an Office of Professionalism and Ethics for “complaint monitoring and investigation.”

USC also said it plans to adopt new measures to advise senior leadership and redraft the University’s Code of Ethics, along with hiring a new senior vice president of human resources.

Eileen Toh, Erica Hur, Kate Sequeira, Katherine Wiles and Terry Nguyen contributed to this report.