May 25, 2021
Former University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) gynecologist, Dr. James Heaps, was indicted on 21 counts of various sexual abuse offenses Monday. The grand jury indictment unsealing brought additional charges against Heaps, who now faces a total of 21 felony counts and a maximum prison sentence of over 90 years if convicted of all offenses. The former UCLA doctor is charged with sexually abusing seven female patients.
Heaps was remanded into custody on $1.19 million bail following the indictment’s unsealing. The Los Angeles Times reported that Leonard Levine, Heaps’ attorney, said, “Dr. Heaps is confident he will be exonerated at trial.” Levine also indicated his client will post bail.
Heaps, 64, is charged with multiple counts each of sexual battery by fraud, sexual exploitation of a patient, and sexual penetration of an unconscious person by fraudulent representation. The indictment includes sexual abuse offenses that allegedly took place between 2009 and 2018. Although additional charges were included in Monday’s indictment, no new victims were listed in court documents.
According to the Los Angeles Times, since Heaps was arrested in 2019, over 300 women have come forward alleging the former doctor “subjected them to sexually inappropriate comments, touched them sexually during exams without wearing gloves and simulated intercourse with an ultrasound probe.”
A UCLA Health website (www.uclahealth.org/heaps), seemingly created to answer questions related to the myriad allegations against Heaps, states the following:
“Health and well-being is our mission, starting with safety. At UCLA Health we are advancing our organization’s policies and practices to prevent and take action against sexual misconduct. That starts with maintaining open dialogue with our patients.”
The website indicates that Heaps was officially employed as an obstetrician-gynecologist at UCLA Health from February 2014 to June 2018. However, the website further clarifies that Heaps has actually been affiliated with the university’s health program since 1990.
The site notes that from 1990 to January 31, 2014, though Dr. Heaps’ private practice was independent from UCLA Health, he still maintained privileges at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Furthermore, from 1989 until 2018, Heaps served on the UCLA Medical School faculty. UCLA confirms that Heaps treated approximately 5,000 patients that can be accounted for with university records, and about 1,600 others for whom no records exist.
UCLA Health’s website also notes that the university is “deeply sorry that a former member of our staff violated our policies and standards, our trust, and the trust of his patients.”
In terms of steps the university is taking to prevent further sexual abuse, the website states that an independent review of the institution’s response to sexual misconduct in clinical settings was initiated in March 2019. The review appears to be ongoing, however, with the university’s website stating that once the findings are completed, “we will identify and implement necessary changes across all of UCLA’s clinical sites. Our process will be guided by the principles of transparency, accountability, fairness and devotion to our patients.”
The site also provides an online submission form where survivors of Dr. James Heaps’ alleged sexual abuse can report a claim.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the University of California (UC) system has publicly acknowledged that staff members received sexual misconduct claims about Heaps as far back as the 1990s. Moreover, the Times confirmed that despite a “detailed report in 2017” which initiated investigations, it took a year for Heaps to leave in 2018, but only after the university declined to renew his contract.
The timeline of the allegations, investigations, and arrest of Dr. James Heaps is as follows:
In November 2020, the UC system reached a proposed $73 million settlement naming the seven women who accused Dr. Heaps of sexual abuse as plaintiffs. A federal judge approved the class-action lawsuit in January, with more than 6,600 former patients of Heaps reportedly eligible to receive a portion of the settlement as a damages award.
But as UCLA’s student newspaper, The Daily Bruin, reported in March, hundreds of survivors who were allegedly abused by Dr. Heaps are opting out of the $73 million settlement, instead choosing to pursue private legal action against the former gynecologist.
Under the class-action settlement, survivors of Heaps’ alleged abuse would be compensated between $2,500 and $250,000. However, as the Daily Bruin reported earlier this year, given that the number of former patients within the plaintiff pool is over 6,000, the likelihood of receiving a damages award totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars is quite slim. The student paper estimated the average damages award for a victim of Heaps’ alleged abuse to be $11,000.
Accordingly, many survivors are pursuing legal options on their own terms. Those class members who opted out of the $73 million settlement are free to file their own civil lawsuits against Heaps and UCLA Health.
Although the new criminal charges against former doctor, James Heaps, could lead to additional prison time should he be convicted, survivors of Heaps’ alleged abuse deserve to be financially compensated.
Following the $73 million settlement being announced last year, Governor Gavin Newsom approved a measure allowing a one-year window for victims to file legal claims against Heaps and UCLA. That window – all of 2021 – allows survivors who would have otherwise been barred from filing a claim due to the existing statute of limitations to finally have their chance at justice. Provided the claim is filed before the end of 2021, survivors are eligible to proceed with a civil lawsuit against Dr. Heaps and UCLA Health, regardless of how long ago the sexual abuse occurred. However, given the number of potential claims, it is recommended that survivors file their individual lawsuit as soon as possible.
If you were sexually abused by Dr. James Heaps, filing a civil lawsuit in pursuit of a financial damages award can be the best means of obtaining justice on your own terms. Civil lawsuits are entirely separate from criminal suits, and the outcome of Heaps’ criminal trial will not have an impact on any of the civil claims.
By filing a civil lawsuit against Dr. James Heaps and UCLA Health, survivors could potentially recover financial compensation for damages such as emotional trauma, reduced quality of life, psychological injury (such as post-traumatic stress disorder/PTSD), and more.
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