Sex Abuse Class-Action Suit vs Ex-UCLA Ob/Gyn Settled for $73 Million

Marcia Frellick

November 19, 2020

The University of California system will pay $73 million under a proposed settlement in the civil case of a former UCLA gynecologic oncologist accused of sexual abuse, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The settlement was reached Monday in the class-action lawsuit brought by seven women who said they were sexually abused by James Heaps, MD.

Dr James Heaps. Source: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP

Heaps, 67, is charged in criminal court with sexually abusing five patients and in civil court of sexual assault and sexual misconduct from 1983-2019 during the time he practiced at the UCLA student health center and UCLA Medical Center.

According to the Times, "Although there are seven named plaintiffs, the class-action lawsuit could eventually include more than 6600 patients of Heaps."

The Times reports that Heaps faces 20 felony counts and is charged with sex crimes from 2011 to 2018. Charges include "sexual battery by fraud, sexual exploitation of a patient, and sexual penetration of an unconscious person."

If convicted on all charges, he faces 67 years in prison.

Under terms of the settlement, according to the Times, Heaps, whose medical license was suspended in July 2019, did not admit any wrongdoing or contribute toward the $73 million but did sign the settlement.

A final settlement will need approval from a US District Court judge.

Heaps' attorney, Leonard Levine, did not respond to Medscape Medical News by publication time.

However, he told CNN in a statement: "Dr Heaps has maintained his innocence ever since he was first accused, and this proposed settlement involving civil litigation does not change that. It involves no admission of guilt or liability by Dr Heaps to any of the allegations against him. It is unfortunate that the Regents of the University of California have decided on this proposed settlement without ever once questioning Dr Heaps' accusers, under oath, in a court of law."

Levine said preliminary hearings in the criminal case will begin on December 7.

UCLA Required to Take Reform Measures

"The agreement filed Monday also requires UCLA to undertake reform measures," the Times reported. "UCLA has been accused of keeping Heaps' misconduct secret before his arrest in June 2019 on charges of sexually touching two patients in 2017."

UCLA told Medscape Medical News in a statement, "The incidents described in the lawsuit reflect alleged conduct that is contrary to our values. We thank the individuals who came forward and hope that this settlement — which is still subject to court approval — is one small step forward for the patients involved."

The university said an independent review, conducted on behalf of the University of California Board of Regents, assessed how UCLA responds to allegations of sexual misconduct by medical professionals. The report was completed earlier this year.

"UCLA Health, the UCLA Ashe Student Health Center, and UC system leadership have already taken many steps to address the issues discussed in the report. UCLA is committed to policies and procedures to protect patients," the university statement said.

The law firm handling many of the civil lawsuits did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

However, plaintiffs' attorney Elizabeth Kramer told the Times the settlement would create a $73 million fund for survivors, with an automatic payment of $2500 to those in the class-action suit.

"Those who do wish to come forward can seek up to $250,000," she told the Times.

According to an ABC News report, UCLA says it removed Heaps from practice in 2018 and moved to fire him in 2019 after investigating his conduct. He then retired.

According to an information page on UCLA's website, Heaps was employed as an ob/gyn from 2014 to 2018. Heaps did his internship and residency in ob/gyn and a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at UCLA School of Medicine from 1983 to 1989. From 1990 to January 31, 2014, Heaps' private practice was independent from UCLA Health. From 1989 until 2018, Heaps served on the UCLA Medical School faculty.

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News and and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick


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