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• Maryland appeals court says dog owners can be held strictly liable for pit bull attacks. "Because of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous." Tracey v. Solesky
• Woman who has been diagnosed as a sex addict sues a school district for failing to prevent her from having sex with male students on the school bus when she was in 11th grade.
Barksdale v. Egg Harbor Township Bd. of Ed.
• Civil rights activist challenges Georgia's "stand your ground law." "By not defining what actions create a reasonable perception justifying the use of deadly force, the Act potentially deprives all Georgia[n]s of the right to life without due process of law." Hutchins v. Deal
• Former patient of a Rhode Island doctor sues him for featuring her in a book about drug addiction. "Plaintiff had expected, as any reasonable patient would, that her private conversations during her treatment sessions with the Defendant would remain private and confidential."
Lisnoff v. Stein
• Class action alleges the YMCA deceives consumers by representing that it practices "Christian" values while allowing its gyms to be used for gay sex trysts. "YMCAs around the country ... are currently being used as brothels for cruising, with the YMCA's knowledge and implicit consent."
Keister v. YMCA
• Social workers are not liable for a sexual assault on a 5-year-old boy by a 16-year-old male placed in an adoptive home. "To rule against the individual defendants in this case would definitely break new ground."
Doe v. Braddy
• Student sues college for refusing to grant her the "reasonable accommodation" of a single room after she complained about her roommate's exhibitionist behavior.
Blankmeyer v. Stonehill College
• School district can be sued over a guidance counselor's sexual relationship with a student who was over the age of consent. "The inherent imbalance of power between a guidance counselor in a public school and a student may render opportunistic sexual predation sufficiently shocking, even with a 'consenting' student over sixteen, to form the basis of a substantive due process claim."
Doe v. Fournier
• Utah judge finds a "credible threat" that Utah County officials will prosecute a polygamist and his wives for bigamy. The officials' acts "suggest that an actual prosecution of Plaintiffs is forthcoming."
Brown v. Herbert
• Louisville, Ky., strip club sues a competitor for displaying an electronic sign outside a convention center that said "Don't go to Godfathers, their girls are ugly and have crabs."
The Godfather v. Trixie's Lounge
• A lawyer cannot sue two women he dated for posting derogatory comments about him on liarscheatersrus.com. "[W]hen viewed within the larger context of the website on which they were posted, there can be no doubt that a reasonable reader would understand the comments to be opinion." Coulotte v. Ryncarz
• Oglala Sioux tribe sues beer makers and Whiteclay, Neb., bars for enabling alcohol abuse on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The illegal trade in alcohol has "caused devastating injuries to the Lakota people and massive financial damages to the [tribe]."
Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Schwarting
Parents Make History With $1M False Memory Award
In a blow to the rights of mental health patients, a Wisconsin jury has awarded $1 million to a couple who claimed malpractice by therapists caused their daughter to have false memories of childhood abuse.
Several patients have won settlements or jury awards of $5 million or more in false memory lawsuits against therapists. But the case of Dr. Charles Johnson and his wife Karen Johnson is the first in which the parents of a patient brought negligent therapy claims — over the objections of the patient.
The Johnsons sued their daughter Charlotte's therapists for emotional distress, alleging they caused her to make unfounded accusations of sexual and physical abuse against them. One of her memories “recovered” in therapy was of her father raping her when she was three years old.
Charlotte opposed the lawsuit and testified that she began having memories of abuse before she began seeing the therapists. But a jury in Madison, Wisc., earlier this week awarded the Johnsons $1 million in damages, attributing 70 percent of the liability to therapist Jeff Hollowell, who treated Charlotte at a hospital in Oconomowoc, Wisc., and the remaining 30 percent to Madison therapist Dr. Kay Phillips.
The case took 15 years to get to trial, with the plaintiffs making a key breakthrough in 2005 when the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the therapist-patient privilege did not apply to Charlotte's treatment records. The Johnsons used those records to support their claim that the defendants practiced the controversial “recovered memory” technique on their daughter.
“They were critical,” the Johnsons' attorney, William Smoler (Hausman-McNally, Madison), tells On Point. “That was the case.”
But the Johnsons may have opened a Pandora's box, shaking the confidence of patients in the confidentiality of their therapy sessions and forcing therapists to worry about how their treatment choices might affect third parties.
“[T]herapists would feel compelled to consider the possible effects of treatment choices on third parties and would have an incentive to compromise their treatment because of the threatened liability,” a dissenting Supreme Court justice warned in Johnson v. Rogers Memorial Hospital, 700 N.W.2d 27 (2005).
The recovered memory technique is based on the belief that therapists can help patients recover repressed memories of trauma. The Johnsons alleged their daughter's therapists were not only liable for inducing her initial false memories but also for continuing the treatment to the point that she was accusing her parents of being Satanists.
“This case is about whether or not things went wildly astray when common sense wasn't used,” Smoler argued to the jury. “Instead of dealing with legitimate issues that Charlotte had, this therapy went off into who knows where.”
Several states have found that therapists have no duty of care toward a non-patient based on their treatment of a patient. “[T]he societal interest in encouraging treatment of child abuse victims and maintaining the trust and confidentiality within the therapist/patient relationship dictates against the imposition of a duty of care beyond that owed to the patient,” the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said in Althaus v. Cohen, 756 A.2d 1166 (2000).
But in 1999, the Wisconsin Supreme Court recognized that duty, citing “the great harm that accompanies an accusation of sexual abuse of a child.” Sawyer v. Midelfort, 595 N.W.2d 423. A 5-2 majority of the court then ruled in 2005 that the Johnsons could proceed with their case even though their daughter refused to waive the therapist-patient privilege.
“[T]here is a public policy exception to the therapist-patient privilege and to the confidentiality in patient health care records where negligent therapy causes false accusations against the parents for sexually or physically abusing their child,” the majority said.
Hollowell and Phillips denied using the recovered memory technique on Charlotte Johnson. But her parents were able to show treatment records to the jury in which, Smoler says, “there were multiple references to the patient recovering memories of abuse by her father.”
Smoler believes the case won't damage the therapist-patient relationship because of the procedural safeguards that the Supreme Court incorporated into the Johnson decision. Plaintiffs, it said, must show “a reasonable likelihood that negligent therapy occurred” and the trial court must conduct an in camera review to ensure that “the records contain relevant information regarding negligent treatment.”
“We had to get affidavits from mental health providers saying, 'This looks like negligent therapy,'” Smoler says.
But Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, dissenting in Johnson, said the majority had gone far beyond “traditional privilege standards,” noting that courts in criminal cases can only disclose therapy records to a defendant with the alleged victim's consent. “And yet the court today affords the privilege less protection, though the risk to the Johnsons is far less severe than the risk faced by any criminal defendant,” she said.
Rogers Memorial Hospital, where Hollowell worked, reached a pretrial settlement with the Johnsons. The jury cleared a third therapist, Tim Reisenauer, of liability.
By Matthew Heller
Editor's note: On Point's RSS feed has moved to this link.
Hotel Sued Over Slaying of Escort by 'Craigslist Killer'
The mother of a prostitute slain by the “Craigslist killer” at a Marriott hotel in Boston has alleged in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit that the hotel's operator is liable for her daughter's death because it failed to prevent prostitution from occurring on its premises.
Court Extends Doctors' Liability for Prescription Gaffes
The Utah Supreme Court has given a boost to the battle against prescription drug abuse by ruling that medical professionals can be sued over injuries to a nonpatient that were allegedly caused by drugs they carelessly prescribed to patients.
Girl's Slaying Tests Cruise Line Liability
The family of a 15-year-old girl who was killed in the crossfire of a gang shootout on a Caribbean island has asked an appeals court to reinstate a lawsuit that tests the liability of cruise ship operators for onshore injuries to passengers.
Bystander Claims "Swoon and Fall" Injuries at Church
In yet another “swoon and fall” case against a church, an Illinois woman claims she was injured during a church service when a parishioner who was receiving the “spirit” fell backward, knocking several other worshippers into her.
Jurors' Comments Fuel New Trial Bid in Bullying Case
Jurors may have opened the door to a new trial in a Maryland school bullying case by saying they returned a verdict for the defense because they were afraid of setting a bad precedent for school systems throughout the country.
Abuse Victim Can Sue Ex-DA Over 'Sexting' Messages
A Wisconsin judge has protected a domestic violence victim from a rogue prosecutor, finding that she can sue him for sending her text messages in which he pressured her to have sex with him.
Four Loko Maker Says Users Knew of Health Dangers
The maker of Four Loko has previewed its defense of a slew of product liability lawsuits, arguing that the physical effects of the energy drink's mixture of alcohol and caffeine — far from being an undisclosed risk to consumers — are precisely what made it so popular.
U.S. v. Arpaio
Subject: Civil rights
Schultz v. Medina Valley
Subject: School prayer
Document: Non-Kumbaya order
Chopourian v. Catholic Healthcare
Subject: Sexual harassment
Jackson v. Paula Deen
Subject: Sexual harassment
Marsh v. Air Tran Airways
Subject: Roaches on a plane
Peterson/Pryde v. Thyden
Court: Montgomery (Va.) Circuit
Subject: Virginia Tech shootings
Verdict: $8 million
Sheridan v. Cherry
Court: L.A. Superior
Subject: Wrongful termination
Brown v. Herbert
Court: USDC, Utah
Hearing: Motion to dismiss polygamy case