`Recovered-Memory' Suit Yields Large Jury Award

Article excerpt

A Wisconsin woman who accused her psychiatrist of making her think she had dozens of multiple personalities and had been sexually abused by her father was awarded more than $860,000 by a jury this week.

The medical malpractice case was hailed as a victory for those who believe that "recovered-memory" therapy is false and destructive.

"This is a vindication (that) this craziness was not her fault," said William Smoler, the attorney who represented Joan Hess, 47, of Wausau, Wis., in the 15-week trial before the Marathon County jury.

Mr. Smoler said yesterday that the Hess family has reconciled and Mrs. Hess is now especially attentive to her father, who is dying of cancer.

Mrs. Hess testified that her psychiatrist, Juan Fernandez III, implanted memories during hypnosis that led her to believe she was raped, had more than 75 personalities and, with her parents, neighbors and friends, was part of a "satanic ritual cult" that engaged in bestiality and human sacrifice.

Mrs. Hess said that none of these events occurred, and that she was permanently harmed by the ordeal.

The trial drew testimony from top mental health professionals who either supported or discounted the validity of repressed-memory therapy, hypnosis, and multiple personality disorder.

Dr. Fernandez's attorneys argued that he had done "what good psychiatrists do."

"He followed his training and he followed the textbook," said defense attorney Paul Grimstad, adding that Dr. Fernandez never suggested any of the memories that Mrs. Hess reported.

Even before Mrs. Hess was hypnotized, Mr. Grimstad said, "she had a feeling there was something bad in her background, something bad in the past . . . [she] was desperate to get to the bottom of her memories, to the bottom of her childhood."

However, after 25 hours of deliberation, the jury ruled that Dr. Fernandez was negligent in his diagnosis and treatment of Mrs. …