DES MOINES, Iowa – Lawyers have negotiated a settlement in a lawsuit filed by orphans who claim they were damaged emotionally after serving as subjects in a stuttering experiment at the University of Iowa more than 60 years ago.
A spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General's office said Friday the cases had been settled for $925,000.
The lawsuit, filed by former test subjects and estate representatives of those who have died, sought damages to offset the lifelong emotional, psychological and self-image problems caused by taking part in the 1939 study.
Johnson County District Court Judge Denver Dillard issued an order approving the settlement Friday morning. The settlement pays $900,000 to five of the plaintiffs, Hazel Potter Dornbush, Kathryn Meacham, the Betty Romp estate, the Clarence Fifer estate, and the Phillip Spieker estate. The state also will pay $25,000 to the sixth plaintiff, Mary Nixon.
The plaintiffs will dismiss their lawsuit and all claims against the state.
An original claim filed by the six plaintiffs sought $13.5 million.
In the settlement, the state denied liability.
"We believe this is a fair and appropriate settlement," Attorney General Tom Miller said in a statement. "For the plaintiffs, we hope and believe it will help provide closure relating to experiences from long ago and to memories going back almost 70 years. For the state, this is a good and prudent result, based on potential risk, the very high costs of continuing litigation, and the difficulty of finding witnesses who were present for the events in question so many decades ago."
Miller said the settlement ends a long-running and difficult litigation that would have been very costly and delayed a resolution for plaintiffs who are now in their 70s and 80s.
Miller said the state looks forward to finalizing the settlement and presenting it to the State Appeal Board for ratification.
The experiment has come to be known as "The Monster Study" because of its methods and the theory researchers set out to prove — that stuttering is a learned behavior that can be induced in children.
Over a six-month period, Dr. Wendell Johnson, a nationally renowned pioneer in the field of speech pathology, and his staff tested his theory on 22 children who were in the care of the state-run Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home.
The children were placed into two groups, one the control group, the other the test group, which was subjected to steady harassment, badgering and other negative therapy in an attempt to get them to stutter.
Researchers concluded the experiment failed to cause children to stutter or develop other speech disabilities.
But the university kept the experiment and its methods under wraps for decades. It was not until 2001 when the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News published an investigative story about the study and its methods did the former subjects learn about the experiment's true purpose. The newspaper based its story on statements made by Mary Tudor, one of Johnson's former research assistants, who lived in California at the time the story was published.
The university apologized for the experiment in 2001.