Los Angeles - A federal judge on Thursday granted preliminary approval to the landmark 215-million-dollar class-action settlement that the University of Southern California [USC] had agreed to pay to former patients of campus gynecologist George Tyndall.
Under the terms of the settlement, the approximately 17 000 women treated during the physician's three-decade career would each be eligible to receive between 2 500 and 250 000 dollars. The amount would depend on the severity of the misconduct alleged and the women's willingness to detail those experiences in writing or in interviews.
The preliminary sign-off by US District Judge Stephen Wilson is not expected to conclude USC's payouts to female students and alumnae. More than 720 women are currently pursuing separate claims against the university in state court, and their lawyers have criticized the class-action agreement as paltry.
Still, Interim President Wanda Austin termed the court action an "important step forward in healing."
"The settlement provides every affected individual the opportunity for a fair and respectful resolution, and it contains additional reforms that will build upon the impactful changes we have already made to strengthen our university," Austin said.
USC will pay the former patients' attorneys up to 25 million dollars under the agreement.
Tyndall is part of the settlement, but under the approved terms he will not contribute to the payout to the women or their attorneys, and he will not admit liability or wrongdoing. The gynecologist still faces an ongoing criminal investigation. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office said Thursday that it had received 131 criminal reports against Tyndall and had not made a decision about whether to file charges.
In court papers, Tyndall's lawyers have denied that their client acted inappropriately during his medical exams at the student health center.
Within the next month, former patients of Tyndall identified through USC records will receive formal notices about the settlement terms. Those already suing in state court have until November to decide whether to opt out of the settlement.
Plaintiffs' attorney Mike Arias, who is co-liaison counsel for the state court defendants, said lawyers are expected to meet individually with clients to discuss the facts of their claims and what they could reasonably expect as they press forward with litigation.
Of the class-action settlements' top possible award of 250,000 dollars, Arias said, "I think that number is significantly lower than most cases out there that have resulted in settlements for this type of conduct."
The ultimate payment for each patient will be determined by a panel of three people including a gynecologist and a forensic psychologist.
No payments will be distributed until Judge Wilson grants final approval to the settlement. In his order Thursday, Wilson scheduled a hearing for January 6 for final approval.