Settling the psychotherapist-patient sexual abuse case.

In many psychotherapist-patient sexual abuse cases, there is a disconnect between the extent of the injury and the settlement value

If you have been sexually abused by your psychologist or psychiatrist or other mental health therapist, a lawyer with experience in mental injury lawsuits can help you evaluate your case. Some legitimate cases must go through a full courtroom trial before the abused patient can recover damages. But other psychotherapist-patient sexual abuse cases will settle before trial.

Most law firms and attorneys representing plaintiffs in mental injury litigation understand that psychotherapist-patient sexual abuse cases rarely settle for their full value because:

  • The therapist usually does not have enough money to pay the plaintiff full compensation for his or her injuries.
  • The plaintiff has to discount the case because of the exclusions and limitations that usually exist in a psychotherapist’s insurance policy. These exclusions and limitations will prevent the plaintiff from recovering the full amount of a potential verdict from the psychotherapist’s insurance company.

Settlement is often based on a risk analysis basis rather than plaintiff’s damages

Psychotherapist-patient sexual abuse cases are an exception to the way most cases are settled. Other personal injury and medical malpractice cases are settled by analyzing plaintiff’s chances of winning and the actual monetary value of plaintiff’s damages. However, with many psychotherapist-patient sexual abuse cases, if the case is tried before a jury the plaintiff will either receive a verdict far in excess of what anybody would have predicted for a damage award (sometimes millions of dollars), or plaintiff may lose or receive an unexpectedly low verdict.

Thus, the plaintiff’s attorney representing the psychotherapy patient will usually need to assess various factors affecting the risks and rewards of a trial:

  • How appalled the jury will be at the psychotherapist’s misconduct.
  • How likely the jury will be to transfer its disgust and revulsion into a large verdict.
  • The likelihood of being able to recover a large damage award from the defendant or from the defendant’s insurance carrier.
  • What plaintiff’s chances are of losing the case entirely or receiving a low verdict because plaintiff will be unsympathetic in front of a jury.

The defendant and the defendant’s insurance company will not usually make the same “risk” analysis. The insurance carriers that defend psychotherapists usually evaluate only damages.

In your psychotherapist-patient sexual abuse case, your attorney can point out to the defense lawyer (usually hired by the insurance carrier) that evaluating damages only, without evaluating the risks of a very large jury verdict, makes little sense. Your attorney can try to show the defense attorney that achieving a fair settlement requires an assessment of risk as well as damages.

Clearly negligent acts increase participation from the insurance carrier

The plaintiff must usually look to the defendant’s insurance carrier to pay a settlement in a psychotherapist-patient sex abuse case. If your plaintiff’s lawyer is able to establish non-sexual negligent misconduct of the defendant psychotherapist, and further establish that that misconduct contributed to your injuries, then you will have a good chance to overcome any exclusions and limitations in the defendant’s insurance policy and increase the amount of money that the insurance company might pay to settle the case.

The quality of the overall case is important

Although psychotherapist-patient sexual abuse cases should be settled on the basis of risk analysis, that risk analysis is greatly affected by the overall quality of plaintiff’s case. The following factors will generally increase the value of plaintiff’s case:

  • A very credible plaintiff.
  • The sexual abuse occurs during psychotherapy or shortly thereafter.
  • In addition to plaintiff’s testimony, there is other proof that the sexual relationship occurred.
  • Defendant admits the sexual relationship. (However, the case might be even stronger if defendant denies the sexual relationship and plaintiff can prove it occurred.)
  • The psychotherapist abused other patients before plaintiff.
  • The psychotherapist makes an arrogant witness.
  • The psychotherapist has been caught in lies at his or her deposition.
  • The psychotherapist has committed provable boundary violations in addition to the sexual misconduct, such as seeing plaintiff outside the office.
  • There is a clear power differential under the circumstances between plaintiff and defendant. (Example: a psychotherapist treating a very troubled, young and unsophisticated patient.)
  • A lengthy sexual relationship.
  • Clear proof showing that plaintiff has become very dependent on defendant.
  • A once functioning plaintiff has become debilitated as a result of defendant’s misconduct.
  • Plaintiff’s attorney can readily establish that plaintiff’s injuries were caused by defendant’s misconduct.

Factors that may reduce the value of a psychotherapist-patient sexual abuse case include:

  • A situation in which plaintiff is the only witness to the sexual abuse and plaintiff has poor credibility and has been caught making inconsistent statements.
  • The plaintiff has previously accused other people of sexually abusing her or him, but could not prove those other accusations.
  • It will be difficult to prove a large power differential between plaintiff and defendant. (Example: a defendant psychotherapist treating a fairly well put together patient who is also a trained psychotherapist.)
  • There is a long gap in time between the end of psychotherapy and the beginning of the sexual relationship.
  • Plaintiff will come off to the jury as an angry person.
  • Plaintiff is abusing drugs at the time of the trial, even if plaintiff can attribute the drug abuse to defendant. (Jurors are unlikely to make a large damage award if they believe that the plaintiff will spend the award on drugs.)
  • Plaintiff remains highly functional during the time and after the time of the abuse by defendant.

Retaining an expert who specializes in psychotherapist-patient sex abuse

Most psychological experts have not studied and do not understand the devastation that comes from therapist-patient sexual abuse. Those who have studied it understand that the injuries caused by the abuse are generally severe and permanent and require hundreds and thousands of dollars and sometimes millions of dollars of treatment to effect even a partial recovery on behalf of plaintiff.

Depending on the facts, the attorney experienced in psychotherapist-patient sexual abuse cases can substantially increase the settlement value of the plaintiff’s case by retaining a psychological expert with special expertise in therapist-patient sex abuse.

Abusive therapist employed by a clinic or health care organization

Sometimes a psychotherapist who sexually abuses a patient will do so in the course of the therapist’s employment with a clinic or some other health care organization. In this situation, your plaintiff’s mental injury lawyer will try to establish that the entity defendant is legally responsibility for the acts of the therapist. Your attorney will seek to uncover any evidence that the entity defendant acted negligently in hiring, monitoring or retaining the abusing psychotherapist. If your mental litigation attorney is successful in presenting such evidence, it can result in a significant settlement from the entity defendant or the entity defendant’s insurance carrier.