US university to pay $250m for gynaecologist assault claims

The University of California has agreed to pay nearly $250m (£185m) to over 200 women who allege they were sexually assaulted by James Heaps, a campus gynaecologist.

Hundreds of women accuse the university of deliberately hiding James Heaps’ alleged sexual abuse of patients and allowing him to continue to have access to victims over many years.  Mr Heaps was based at the university’s Los Angeles site (UCLA) for 35 years between 1983 and 2018.

A USLA statement said “The conduct alleged to have been committed by Heaps is reprehensible and contrary to the University’s values.  Our first and highest obligation will always be to the communities we serve, and we hope this settlement is one step toward providing healing and closure for the plaintiffs involved.”

But Kara Cagle, a breast cancer survivor who reported Mr Heaps while she was undergoing treatment at the university, told the Los Angeles Times: “Today, after eight long years, I received recognition of what happened to me. Although there is some consolation in that, my heart breaks for all the women who were not spared, all the women who suffered after me, because UCLA refused to act.”

Last July, a federal judge approved a $73m settlement against Mr Heaps, which was brought by more than 5,500 women. In addition, the university’s $250m settlement does not halt an ongoing lawsuit by more than 300 patients.

Heaps faces 21 criminal counts of sexual abuse against seven women and has pleaded not guilty. 

This settlement follows a series of a large settlements with US universities over patient abuse by campus doctors.  Last month, the University of Michigan reached a $490m settlement with more than 1,000 people who say they were abused by a sports doctor during his four-decade career. Nearby Michigan State University reached a half billion-dollar settlement with 300 people who were abused by Larry Nassar, a doctor who also treated members of the US women’s Olympics gymnastics team.

This appears to be yet another example of a sophisticated sexual predator who committed abuse under the guise of normal medical examinations. 


Written by Catherine Davey at BLM (catherine.davey@blmlaw.com)

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