Sunday, January 23, 2011

Historic Wisconsin Verdict Rules for 3rd Party False Memory Plaintiff

This morning, an email from the False Memory Syndrome Foundation reported:

"A jury in Madison, Wisconsin returned its verdict at approximately 1:00 a.m. Sunday morning January 23, 2011 in the case Charles and Karen Johnson brought against the the Rogers Memorial Hospital chain of psychiatric hospitals in Wisconsin. The jury found doctors negligent in two of the three counts and awarded Karen and Charles Johnson $1 million."  

The Johnsons had alleged "negligent treatment of their adult daughter, Charlotte, by various therapists and a hospital."

According to an earlier appeal in the case, "The court first determined that the Johnsons' claims of negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress against three therapists for implanting false memories of sexual and physical abuse in their child must be dismissed based on public policy concerns of confidentiality in the therapist-patient relationship."

On May 29, 1996, the Johnsons filed a complaint against the defendants, alleging the following facts. Beginning in the late summer or fall of 1991, Charlotte began psychotherapy treatment with defendant Kay Phillips (Phillips) and defendant Heartland Counseling Services. Shortly thereafter, Phillips referred Charlotte to defendant Rogers Memorial Hospital (RMH) for treatment in specialty programs that focused on eating disorders, addictive disorders, and sexual and physical abuse issues. Charlotte was admitted to RMH as an inpatient in early November 1991. The Johnsons entered into a financial agreement with RMH in which they agreed to pay for this inpatient care.

¶3. At RMH, Charlotte received treatment from defendants Jeff Hollowell (Hollowell) and Tim Reisenauer (Reisenauer). During this treatment, Charlotte developed the belief that her parents had sexually and physically abused her as a young child. Charlotte remained as an inpatient at RMH until November 29, 1991, but continued to receive treatment from Hollowell and Reisenauer after that time as an outpatient. She confronted her father about this abuse on November 22, 1991, and confronted her mother on October 28, 1993. Both confrontations occurred during meetings where Charlotte's therapists were present, although it is unclear who was present, including which therapists.

¶4. The Johnsons denied that such abuse occurred. Nevertheless, Charlotte terminated her relationship with her parents. The Johnsons were unsuccessful in reestablishing any relationship with her. Charlotte continues to believe that her parents abused her.

¶5. In their complaint, the Johnsons alleged three primary causes of action. First, they alleged negligence against Phillips, Hollowell, and Reisenauer (therapists) for their treatment of Charlotte. They claimed that the treatment provided by the therapists resulted in Charlotte's false beliefs that she had been abused and that their continued treatment of Charlotte reinforced these false beliefs. The Johnsons also contended that the therapists failed or refused to counsel Charlotte to determine the validity of these memories despite being informed by the Johnsons that these beliefs were false. Under this cause of action, they sought the following damages: past and future mental and emotional pain and suffering, past and future loss of enjoyment of life, loss of the relationship of Charlotte, and loss of funds paid for the negligent treatment.

On July 8, 2005, the Wisconsin Supreme Court gave a ground breaking decision in Charles Johnson v. Rogers Memorial Hospital, holding that the confidentiality of the Jonsons' daughter's medical records could be breached in order for the Johnsons to pursue their third party law suit against her therapists.  The court required the trial judge to review her medical records and to turn over those to the Johnsons that he deemed relevant to their case.

The FMSF email explains:

"This case has been in the courts for 15 years because of the difficulties in mounting a 3rd party action. It is especially significant because the Johnson daughter apparently still believes her memories of abuse and satanic rituals. The case went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court twice on issues dealing with access to therapy records because the Johnson daughter did not give permission for access to those records."

This is a highly significant case, and I hope it is one that sets a precedent by which families might hold irresponsible therapists accountable for the cultivation of harmful delusions, whether the loved one in whom they've instilled those delusions has retracted them or not...

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