Penn State intends to settle lawsuits stemming from the sexual abuse of children by its former assistant football coach “as quickly as possible” and is “adequately covered” to compensate victims, the university’s president has said.
In an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation, Rodney Erickson expressed a desire to avoid putting those targeted by predatory paedophile Jerry Sandusky through the ordeal of a civil trial.
“We don’t want to, if at all possible, drag victims through another round of court cases and litigation,” he said, adding: “If we can come to an agreement with them, with their attorneys, we believe that would be the best possible outcome in this whole very, very difficult, tragic situation.”
Last month, Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of child sex abuse following a trial in which a succession of his victims gave harrowing testimony of their ordeal at the hands of a trusted figure.
The 68-year-old is currently awaiting sentencing and is expected to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Meanwhile, the fall-out from his serial abuse of children over a 15-year period – and allegations of a cover-up at Penn State – continues to shame the university.
On Monday, the National Collegiate Athletic Association slapped a $60 million fine on the university, and imposed on its football team a four-year ban on post-season competition.
In a Washington Post editorial on Saturday, Erickson said that many may feel it unfair that the NCAA’s action affects students, faculty, staff and alumni “who had no involvement, or even knowledge of who Jerry Sandusky was, [and] now share in the responsibility of leaders who failed”.
But he added: “I think, however, that acceptance of this responsibility will be essential to our ability to lay a new foundation and integral to the long-term character of our institution.”
Meanwhile, the institution is preparing for a slew of legal action from victims of abuse.
Its failings in the Sandusky scandal were spelled out in a report ordered by Penn State board members and released last month.
Compiled by former FBI director Louis Freeh, it found that senior university figures repeatedly “concealed critical facts” relating to Sandusky’s actions.
The report singled out revered football coach Joe Paterno, alongside ex-university president Graham Spanier, vice-president Gary Schultz and athletic director Timothy Curley, claiming that the four men “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade”.
It is alleged that the senior university officials allowed the assistant football coach to retire in 1999 rather than hand him over to the police. This granted the serial abuser “licence to bring boys to campus facilities for ‘grooming’ as targets for his assaults”, Freeh stated.
After hearing its conclusions, a lawyer for one victim described the report as a “treasure trove” of information that could be used in a civil case.
As well as leaving it’s reputation in tatters, the abuse by Sandusky could cost Penn State more than $100 million in compensation, it has been suggested.
“We believe that we are adequately covered,” Erickson told CBS.
“In addition to that, we hope to be able to settle as many of these cases as quickly as possible,” he added.
The comments come after the university’s general liability insurer sought last week to deny or limit coverage for Sandusky-related claims.
Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association Insurance argued that Penn State withheld key information needed to assess risk.
In a memo filed in court in Philadelphia, the company argued that Penn State failed to disclose that it had information about Sandusky that “was material to the insurable risk assumed by PMA”.
The company, which has long insured the university, also argued that its policies after March 1, 1992, were amended to exclude “abuse or molestation” and that coverage for such behaviour is excluded as a matter of public policy in Pennsylvania.