Hundreds of women opt out of $73M settlement in James Heaps lawsuit
Hundreds are opting out of the $73 million settlement to pursue individual litigation against UCLA and former UCLA OB-GYN James Heaps.(Daily Bruin file photo)
By Hyeyoon (Alyssa) Choi
March 12, 2021 2:37 p.m.
This post was updated March 17 at 4:32 p.m.
Hundreds of women who were allegedly sexually assaulted by a former UCLA gynecologist are opting out of a $73 million class-action settlement that was preliminarily approved by a judge in January.
[Related link: $73M class action settlement preliminarily approved in James Heaps lawsuit]
John Manly, whose firm represents around 120 of James Heaps’ alleged victims, said the settlement offers little to survivors and only benefits UCLA and the lawyers representing the class.
Under the class-action settlement, more than 6,600 of Heaps’ former patients can be compensated between $2,500 and $250,000. However, Manly said almost nobody is going to receive $250,000 through the settlement, so the average award will likely be far less.
“$11,000 (on average) for being sexually assaulted by your doctor isn’t an award, it’s an insult,” Manly said.
Heaps did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the current settlement.
Manly said all of his clients have opted out of the settlement and will be pursuing individual suits against Heaps and UCLA.
The UC Regents and class-action lawyers representing alleged victims of Heaps, a former UCLA OB-GYN who has been accused of sexual assault by more than 200 former patients, agreed to the settlement in January. The settlement requires the University of California to pay $73 million to Heaps’ former patients and UCLA to reform its sexual assault reporting and investigation policies and implement chaperone policies at UCLA medical facilities.
Eligible patients received notice of the settlement and its 90-day opt-out deadline Feb. 5. After May 6, class members who did not opt out are prohibited from filing individual lawsuits against UCLA or Heaps.
A provision in the settlement stipulates that if more than 250 people opt out of the class-action settlement, UCLA is allowed to terminate the settlement. However, Manly said he believes it’s very unlikely UCLA will do so, as the settlement gives the university permanent protection from liability.
UCLA Health declined to comment on the settlement but offered the following statement.
“Our goal is to provide the best patient experience with every patient, every encounter, every time,” the statement read. “We remain committed to providing quality care that respects the dignity of every patient.”
Amy Zeman, an attorney at Gibbs Law Group who represented the alleged victims in the class action suit, said the settlement gives former patients or alleged victims an option to not go through an individual lawsuit and have their personal details aired in court.
If an alleged victim decides to opt out of the class action and instead file a civil suit, they would have to forgo confidentiality and confront the perpetrator if the case goes to trial.
“The issue I have with the class (action lawsuit) is they act like these survivors are weak … who can’t talk about what happened to them, and that’s not true,” Manly said.
Daniel Girard, an attorney at Girard Sharp who represented the alleged victims in the class action suit, said in a memorandum to Robert Gary Klausner, the federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, that the proposed settlement is a better option for plaintiffs compared to individualized litigation.
“Individualized litigation is one option, but a frightening and impracticable one for many women,” Girard said.
[Related link: Gov. Newsom signs AB 3092, allowing Heaps survivors more time to file civil charges]
Heaps pleaded not guilty on 20 criminal charges. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing setting April 6.