Legal damages from accusations of sexual misconduct by an ex-UCLA gynecologist climbed higher Tuesday, with attorneys for 312 former patients announcing a $374 million settlement of abuse lawsuits against the University of California.
The settlement of cases involving former campus gynecologist James Heaps comes on top of a $243.6 million resolution of lawsuits involving about 200 patients announced in February, and a $73 million settlement of federal lawsuits reached last year involving roughly 5,500 plaintiffs.
Heaps served as a gynecologist/oncologist, affiliated with UCLA, for nearly 35 years. At various times, he saw patients at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and at his office at 100 Medical Plaza.
At one time, Heaps was reportedly the highest paid physician in the UC system and had treated about 6,000 patients, attorneys said.
More than 500 lawsuits were filed against Heaps and UCLA, accusing the school of failing to protect patients after becoming aware of the misconduct.
The lawsuits alleged that UCLA actively and deliberately concealed Heaps’ sexual abuse of patients. UCLA continued to allow Heaps to have unfettered sexual access to female patients — many of whom were cancer patients — at the university, plaintiffs’ attorneys alleged in the suits.
UCLA issued a statement Tuesday saying, “This agreement, combined with earlier settlements involving other plaintiffs, resolves the vast majority of the claims alleging sexual misconduct by James Heaps, a former UCLA Health physician. The conduct alleged to have been committed by Heaps is reprehensible and contrary to our values. We are grateful to all those who came forward, and hope this settlement is one step toward providing some level of healing for the plaintiffs involved.
“We are dedicated to providing the highest quality care that respects the dignity of every patient. We are taking all necessary steps to ensure our patients’ well-being in order to maintain the public’s confidence and trust.”
The university outlined a series of measures undertaken to bolster student and patient safety. It also noted that the settlement “will not impact UCLA’s teaching, research and service, including patient care, student life and campus activities. It will be covered by the UC systemwide insurance and risk financing program. Any additional required resources will be provided by UCLA Health and campus operating revenue.”
Heaps faces 21 counts of sexual abuse offenses in state court in a criminal case in which he’s accused of sexually assaulting seven women. He faces more than 67 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Settlement of the federal case last year required UCLA to ensure stronger oversight procedures for identification, prevention and reporting of sexual misconduct.
The federal lawsuits alleged that while patients complained about Heaps years earlier, it was not until late 2017 that allegations of sexual misconduct by the gynecologist were reported to UCLA’s Title IX office and a formal investigation was opened.
Heaps was allowed to continue seeing patients — both during the investigation and after UCLA informed Heaps that his contract would not be renewed when it expired on June 30, 2018.
UCLA ended Heaps’ employment and notified law enforcement of the allegations against him on June 14, 2018.
In June 2019, Heaps was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual battery. Following his arrest, many more women came forward to report alleged sexual misconduct. In August 2020, Heaps was charged with additional felonies.
In March 2021 in a similar case, USC agreed to pay more than $1.1 billion to former patients of ex-campus gynecologist George Tyndall, the largest sex abuse payout in higher education history.
Tyndall — the only full-time gynecologist at the student health clinic from 1989 until 2016 — has pleaded not guilty to dozens of sexual assault charges.