COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A three-judge panel has ruled in favor of former Ohio State University students seeking compensation for the sexual abuse they endured at the hands of a former university physician.
In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District Court of Ohio found Wednesday that a district judge “erred” when he dismissed a Title IX lawsuit filed by about 100 former university athletes who were sexually abused by former university physician Dr. Richard Strauss between 1979 and 1998 under the guise of medical exams.
Steven Snyder-Hill, one of the original plaintiffs in the case against Ohio State, said today’s ruling — allowing Strauss survivors to bring their claims to trial — is a win for the hundreds of former athletes who he said were silenced by the university for the past five years.
“The court sent a signal that ‘you can’t get away with this,'” Steven Snyder-Hill said. “You can’t get away, because just like our lawyer said, you would be rewarding OSU for hiding this and concealing it if you let them make this argument that ‘it’s just been too long.'”
In the lawsuit, survivors alleged that Ohio State fraudulently concealed complaints of Strauss’ abuse — and many victims were unaware they had been abused until years later – and thus the two-year statute of limitations should not apply.
But District Judge Michael H. Watson, who was asked to recuse himself from the case due to a conflict of interest regarding his financial ties to Ohio State, dismissed the lawsuit in September 2021 on the grounds that the two-year statute of limitations had expired.
The three-judge panel, however, disagreed. Under a legal loophole called the discovery rule, the statute of limitations’ “clock starts only when” a plaintiff first discovers that they endured sexual abuse, the panel ruled.
“I know that they’re Goliath, and we’re David,” Snyder-Hill said. “But you know what? David just won today.”
The second group of about 100 plaintiffs filed a separate appeal, hoping to reopen the case against Ohio State on the grounds that Watson should have recused himself from the judge’s bench. In their appeal, the plaintiffs claimed that Watson failed to disclose his full involvement with the university, including being a paid law professor and his spouse’s licensing deal with Ohio State.
In May 2019, Perkins Coie LLP law firm released a 180-page independent investigation that detailed Strauss’ acts of sexual abuse against at least 177 former Ohio State students. Strauss died by suicide in 2005.
Ohio State, who a university spokesperson said is reviewing the decision, has paid approximately $60 million to 296 survivors in other settlements and has covered the cost of counseling services and treatment for survivors, according to past NBC4 reporting.
Contact the 24-hour Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio helpline at 614-267-7020 or the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-4673.
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ full ruling can be read below.