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.
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)
- Dr. Giugliano admitted that he had sexual relations with Ms. Dupree; however he testified that they ended before she became his patient. Proof at trial, though, was conclusively to the contrary and the trial judge stated that the defendant “clearly provided certain testimony that was demonstrably false or otherwise erroneous.”
- There were about 25 incidents of sexual contact in places as varied as defendant’s office, plaintiff’s car and a health club.
- Plaintiff’s medical malpractice insurer refused to cover him for the claims in this lawsuit based on language in the policy that excluded from coverage any claim resulting from sexual intimacy or sexual exploitation. The disclaimer was the subject of a lawsuit and upheld on appeal in Physicians’ Reciprocal Insurers v. Giugliano (2d Dept. 2007).