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Mental Distress Verdict for $200,000 and Punitive Damages Award Affirmed against Physician who Sexually Exploited Patient

Posted in Psychological Damages, Punitive Damages

Kristin Dupree had been a beautiful fashion model who married at the age of 23 and settled in Southampton, New York. When she was 29, Kristin underwent an incapacitating panic attack that led her to the office of James E. Giugliano, M.D., a local family practitioner. After 17 months of anti-depressant drugs and twice a week  “talk therapy,” the married doctor and his patient began a nine month long sexual relationship.

Then:

Now:

Claiming malpractice and that the doctor ruined her marriage and caused her to suffer from emotional distress, Dupree sued Dr. Giugliano and in November 2008 a Suffolk County jury found that there was indeed malpractice and awarded her damages as follows:

  • for mental distress – $200,000 ($150,000 past – 7 years, $50,000 future – 5 years)
  • economic damages – $134,000 (loss of past financial support)
  • punitive damages – $166,000

The jury found that plaintiff was 25% at fault so her awards for mental distress and economic losses were reduced proportionately.

Both the liability verdict and the damages amounts have now been affirmed on appeal in Dupree v. Giugliano (2d Dept. 2011).

Plaintiff claimed that she was a severely depressed patient who was compelled by the medical phenomenon known as “eroticized transference” to participate in sexual relations with her doctor.

The defense unsuccessfully argued that the sexual relationship was consensual – indeed provoked by the plaintiff – and in jury selection counsel suggested that this case was like the movie “Fatal Attraction” (in which a married man’s one night stand comes back to haunt him when that lover stalks him and his family). Clearly, that suggestion did not sit well with the jurors.

Plaintiff proved that her anxiety and depression increased and became chronic because of the defendant’s sexual exploitation. Instead of a quick cure, her expert psychiatrist opined that plaintiff would need another five years to get back to herself.

The jurors heard testimony as to plaintiff’s mental distress damages:

  • tremendous guilt over the sexual relationship
  • marital discord and hostility leading to a bitter divorce
  • loss of full custody of her 11 year old daughter
  • loss of friendships and embarrassment

Plaintiff also claimed as damages:

  • $155,000 for legal fees related to her divorce (jury awarded -0-)
  • $435,000 for loss of financial support from her husband – an excavation and landscaping contractor (jury awarded $134,000)

Inside Information:

  • http://mcdonaldcodycook.com/ Personal injury attorney, Gainesville GA, Gus McDonald

    While the plaintiff may have acted in a way that was ostensibly encouraging, it seems incontrovertible that the power dynamics at play between a mentally stable male physician in a position of power and a panicking, unhappy female patient who was not only subjectively “beneath” the doctor but actively dependent on him for medical treatment are unbalanced at best and actively predatory on the doctor’s part at worst. Doctors are people too, it’s true, but they’re supposed to aspire to a higher code of conduct — there’s much, much less excuse for this kind of behavior.