St. Paul, Minnesota
At the conclusion of what many national experts believe is the longest
psychiatric malpractice trial in U.S. history, a St. Paul jury today awarded
$2.5 million to a Minnesota woman and her family for injuries suffered as a
result of negligent psychotherapy to recover so-called “repressed memories”.
During the trial, the plaintiffs, Elizabeth, David, and Lisha Carlson, as
well as several local and national experts in memory and psychiatry, argued
that the defendant, Dr. Diane Bay Humenansky – had implanted false memories
of childhood sexual abuse. The jury apparently agreed.
This trial was the second in an ongoing series of malpractice cases filed
against Dr. Mumenansky, a St. Paul psychiatrist who employed a controversial
treatment known as “recovered memory therapy”. In August of 1995, Vynnette
Hamanne – another St. Paul native – and her family were awarded $2.67
million as a result of similar claims against Dr. Humanansky. The Hamanne
verdict is generally believed to be the largest psychotherapy negligence
award in U.S. history.
During both the Carlson and Hamanne trials, Dr. Humenansky and her defense
experts testified that hypnosis, drugs, coercion, group pressure and
suggestion cannot produce horrific and compelling false memories. This
theory was criticized in both cases by world renowned memory expert Prof.
Elizabeth Loftus who also testified that the theory of “repressed memory” is a myth that is unsupported by reliable scientific evidence. Prof. Richard
Ofshe, a Pultizer Prize winner from the University of California similarly
testified that “recovered memory therapy” is the “worst form of psychiatric
quackery in the 20th century”. “These reckless and dangerous therapists”,
Ofshe said, “have destroyed thousands of American families.” University of
Minnesota medical school and psychology faculty members, including Profs.
Glenn Lewis, Keith Horton, Marian Hall, and William Grove testified that Dr.
Humenansky’s treatment methods were “reckless and dangerous” and had caused
significant harm to the Carlson family.
During both trials, Ramsey County Judge Bertrand Poritsky – considered one
of the most experienced and capable judges i the state – ruled that the
theory that humans are capable of “repressing” or “dissociating” memories of
numerous traumas in childhood was not a credible scientific theory and thus
could not be presented to the jury.
R. Christopher Barden, Ph.D., J.D., a licensed psychologist and law
professor, as well as the personal attorney for the Carlson family said that
“the Carlson and Hamanne verdicts send a powerful message to
psychotherapists that they must stop using untested and unproven methods on
their patients.” As President of the National Association for Consumer
Protection in Mental Health Practices, Dr. Barden – who also serves on the
Minnesota State Board of Psychology – issued the following statement:
“These cases demonstrate that therapists must obey the informed consent laws
or face serious legal consequences. Bogus theories such as “repression” and
unproven treatments for junkscience illnesses such as “multiple personality
disorder” may not be used on American citizens until they have been proven
safe and effective by reliable scientific research. Millions of dollars of
taxpayers mone are wasted every year on these experimental and potentially
dangerous forms of mental health treatment and it is time for such unethical
practices to cease. Until the professional associations and licensing boards
stop these dangerous practices, victims of quack psychotherapies will
continue to turn to the courts for justice.”
Through her personal attorney, R. Christopher Barden, plaintiff Elizabeth
Carlson issued the following statement:
“This is an enormous step toward justice being served. It now seems clear
that this long and difficult process will result in better protections for
mental health consumers – It was all worth it. Hopefully now “repressed
memory therapists” will stop destroying the livesof innocent families.”
Like the Hamanne trial, the Carlson trial involved extensive discussions of
scientific evidence regarding the nature of human memory, research on
emotional responses to abuse and other traumas and methods for testing the
effectiveness of various mental health treatments. Numerous memory and
trauma experts testified that over a century of research supports the notion
that human beings remember trauma and are, in fact, haunted b vivid memories
of war, sexual abuse, rape, car accidents, and other forms of trauma. The
notion that many people somehow “block out” or “repress” of “dissociate” the
memories of such experiences is simply not supported by credible scientific
evidence. The idea that therapists can help patients “recover” such
“repressed” memories is simply junkscience, said the experts. Relying on
this large and growing body of scientific evidence, courts in a number of
states (Hungerford in New Hampshire; Maskell in Maryland; Engstrom in
California; Hamanne in Minnesota; Carlson in Minnesota) have ruled that the
theory of “repression” is a junkscience notion that may not be used to
mislead or confuse juries.
The Carlson and Hamanne trials have engaged national attention with media
coverage of one or both of these cases appearing on national TV and in
numerous newspaper and magazine articles. With hundreds of “false memory”
suits now pending, the national legal observers are looking to the Hamanne
and Carlson cases – the most carefully and fully litigated of the cases to
date – to establish the value of false memory suits throughout the nation.
“The Carlson case is factually the most difficult case for the plaintiff of
all of the 30 or more cases I am involved with” said R. Christopher Barden,
Carlson’s lawyer and a national speaker and expert on “repressed memory”
treatments and lawsuits. “If we can win this case we may be able to win them
all. It is now time for the mental health professions to take the legal
rights of patients more seriously and stop using unproven and untested
experiemental treatments without adequate and informed consent.”
The third trial against Dr. Humenansky is scheduled to begin in June, 1996.
Terry A. Dawson
Post Office Box 6183
Katy, Texas 77491-6183
Courtesy of Fathers’ Manifesto.