5.8 million awarded in lawsuit, claims therapists implanted false memories of satanic ritual abuse

By MARK SMITH

Copyright 1997 Houston Chronicle

A jury awarded nearly $5.8 million Friday to a woman who claimed her family was torn apart when her psychotherapy produced false memories of satanic ritual abuse.

The judgment is believed the largest among several handed down in recent years against therapists accused of implanting false memories of sexual abuse, often involving a satanic cult. Many other such suits filed around the country have been settled out of court.

Jurors in U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr.'s court, who were given the case on Wednesday, said they reached a general consensus in favor of plaintiff Lynn Carl during the first few minutes of their deliberations.

But they said it took longer to arrive at the amount of their judgment against Dr. Gloria Keraga and other details of the verdict.

"This verdict validates my story, and I hope gives strength to those other patients who have suffered similar abuse," said Carl, 46, who during psychotherapy came to believe she had practiced murder, cannibalism, sexual abuse and incest.

Carl's attorney, Skip Simpson, argued during the trial that therapists implanted false memories that worsened Carl's condition so they could collect more than $1.1 million in insurance. "This case was all about creating victims so the mental health field could have patients and expensive treatment," he said.

The jury found that Keraga bore 12 percent of the liability in the case, with a number of others identified as sharing the blame for negligence. All the other defendants previously settled with Carl or were dropped.

Keraga and her attorneys declined comment and gave no indication of whether they would appeal.

During the trial, Keraga, 44, testified that she didn't know if the specific memories Carl recovered in therapy were true, but said she believed the "gist" of them.

One of Keraga's attorneys, Suzan Cardwell, argued the medical care Keraga provided Carl was a reasonable effort to help the patient work through severe emotional problems.

Carl is one of more than a dozen patients who filed lawsuits against therapists at the former Spring Shadows Glen Hospital in Houston. The patients allege that therapists planted false memories of abuse after the patients were diagnosed with multiple personality disorder.

Several jurors said they were concerned Keraga and other Spring Shadows Glen therapists failed to warn their patients about the risks of the treatment.

"I think most of us felt red flags should have gone up quickly during therapy," said juror Joe Kemper, 42.

He also said that in reviewing medical records presented during the trial, jurors found no evidence that Carl was improving despite her expensive treatment. "I couldn't figure it out," Kemper said. "When did the treatment end? It just went on and on."

"Dr. Keraga didn't specialize in satanic ritual abuse, but she had the power to stop treatment that wasn't helping her patients," added juror Robert Swan, 31.

In 1993, Spring Shadows Glen closed the dissociative disorders unit, where such patients were treated, after state authorities cited the hospital for excessive use of physical restraints on patients, censorship of patient mail and phone calls and, in one case, making a patient's discharge contingent upon safety from a "satanic cult."

The hospital now is under different ownership and has been renamed Memorial Spring Shadows Glen.

Carl, who suffered from depression, testified that during her therapy at Spring Shadows Glen from May 1991 to March 1993, she became convinced she had developed more than 500 personalities because of repressed memories of involvement with a satanic cult.

Therapists never warned her the memories she recovered through hypnosis and other forms of psychotherapy might be unreliable, she testified.

And they told her that unless she continued recovering memories about the abuse, she would remain in denial and her children "wouldn't get well," Carl testified.

Carl's children - Kristi, then 13, and B.J., 14 - entered the hospital a year after Carl began her stay there. They were admitted for evaluation after Carl's allegations that they had been abused.

B.J. came to believe he was programmed to die by age 16, and Kristi believed she was a "breeder" for the cult, according to testimony. They also believed they had committed incest.

Before she left the hospital, Carl signed a letter to Children's Protective Services, claiming she and other cult members abused her children "sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally."

Carl said these false memories led to divorce from her husband and a court order preventing her from seeing her children.

Upon her release from Spring Shadows Glen, Carl went through treatment in Florida and Maryland before reuniting with her husband, Joe, and their children. In April 1996, the couple remarried.

Keraga's attorney, Cardwell, pointed to testimony from several therapists that the Carl situation represented a "classic pedophile" case in which the perpetrators and victims later deny the sexual abuse.

Describing members of the family as "evil," Cardwell said Simpson and Carl hoped to "make money off this sexual abuse."

She said Carl demonstrated symptoms of abuse and that "evidence is overwhelming" that the Carl family had practiced incest.

Referring to Carl's journals and medical records describing bizarre sexual abuse, murder and torture, Cardwell said such memories could not be falsely implanted.

Although no specific corroborative evidence was submitted during the trial, Cardwell suggested that the "cult" described in the medical records could be the Carl family.

Treatment for mental illness linked to "repressed memories" soared during the 1980s and early 1990s as hundreds of patients reported that psychotherapy had brought forth memories of childhood abuse.

Since then, many patients have alleged that they are victims of "false memory syndrome" -memories of events that didn't happen, which were implanted or suggested by overzealous therapists trying to cash in on generous insurance benefits.