Jerry Sandusky’s sadistic sexual rampage on youths and Penn State’s apparent negligence in attempting to stop him could cost the university up to $100 million in restitution to victims, law experts say.
The Freeh Report released Thursday painted the picture of a cover up by deceased coach and Sandusky long-time friend Joe Paterno and other top administrators for as long as 14 years. The report is not a legal document. But its findings following the conviction of Sandusky, a former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator, on 45 counts of child molestation would make any civil trial difficult for the school to win. Penn State already has encouraged victims to come forward and settle, but now the victims will be encouraged (and many will say justified) to come forward asking for millions of dollars.
“Penn State could get clobbered,” said Norm Pattis, a leading trial lawyer based in Connecticut who specializes in civil suits. “The plaintiff’s theory is not just that people were injured but that lives were ruined. It’s not uncommon to see behavioral problems. I think the damage claims could be very significant.
“Five million apiece is a conservative estimate,” Pattis said. “If I had one of these plaintiffs, I’d hold out for a $10 million settlement and it would take a lot of work to get me to do less.”
Some contend that a settlement less than $1million is more reasonable. “Somebody said $10 million per victim,” said legal expert Michael McCann, director of the Sports Law Institute and professor of law at Vermont Law School and a contributor for Sports Illustrated. “No, I don’t see where that number is from. When somebody dies, it’s not that high.”
The NCAA sent a letter to Penn State asking for answers to four key questions related to the Sandusky scandal, and sports law expert Alan Milstein said it’s a foregone conclusion the NCAA will get involved. “If Penn State is smart,” he said, “they’re going to self-punish and eliminate the program for one year to avoid the death penalty.”
Others the NCAA will resist getting involved and let the legal matters run their course. But Milstein said he believes the opposite. “This is all about sports,” he said. “All about protecting your sports empire.”
He predicts Penn State will “shut down” its football program temporarily and allow athletes to transfer without penalty. If that happens, the school obviously would suffer a serious financial hit.
Would all this irreparably damage the university? Probably not, as Penn State’s endowment is $1.8 billion.