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The bizarre treatment of a patient by a Seattle neuropsychiatrist has yielded a large judgment for psychotherapy negligence. Plaintiffs Jean and Robert Drummond of Spokane, Wash., charged in Drummond v. Dudley that between 1989 and 1992, Dr. Donald L. Dudley used powerful drugs to “erase” their 31-year-old autistic son Stephen’s brain in a deranged attempt to turn the young man into a trained killer. The treatment left a functional young man comatose, his lawyer claims. Evidence at trial showed that Dudley, who died last October at 64, told other patients that he worked for the CIA, could walk on water and was one of 100 people who controlled the planet. Dudley was also alleged to have provided underage patients with alcohol and access to firearms. He was described by attorneys as being bent on a deluded effort to build an army out of his patients to take over schools and hospitals, according to court papers. Despite being diagnosed as bipolar and having had his license suspended in 1994, Dudley continued to practice. Last month, a Pierce County, Wash., jury awarded Stephen Drummond and his parents $2.1 million. According to their lawyer, Lisa Marchese of Seattle’s Stafford Frey Cooper, defense lawyers agreed on Feb. 9 not to appeal and settled for $2 million, the liability limit under Dr. Dudley’s insurance policy, Marchese says. They had offered a settlement of only $70,000 before trial, she says. Dudley’s lawyer, Amy T. Forbis of Seattle’s Williams, Kastner & Gibbs, would not confirm the details of the settlement. Dudley’s case is an extreme example of what one plaintiffs’ expert calls the brave new world of mental health malpractice litigation. R. Christopher Barden, a North Salt Lake, Utah, psychologist and attorney, was hired by Marchese as a consultant, and has spent the past several years consulting on similar cases. LAWYERS AS REGULATORS Barden claims that plaintiffs’ attorneys, with the help of medical experts, are fast filling the breach of what he calls a “seriously under-regulated” mental health system — one that would allow an individual such as Dudley to operate unchecked. Dudley used hypnosis and injections of a strong sedative, sodium amytal, in his treatment of Stephen Drummond’s developmental disabilities. The plaintiffs alleged that, rather than trying to alleviate their son’s possible autism, Dudley was instead following his own agenda of trying to “erase” a portion of Drummond’s brain. Drummond’s parents filed suit against Dudley and his wife, Irene, in 1998, although the treatment of their son ended in 1992. (Marchese attributes the delay to state medical board investigations and alleged threats by the defendant against the plaintiffs.) “Steve was basically a kid who was on the verge of living his life and started getting injected with these dangerous drugs and, slowly and gradually, became comatose,” Marchese says. Forbis counters that the treatment was not the cause of Drummond’s deterioration but was a natural progression of his existing condition and that the plaintiffs minimized his prior educational, medical and social difficulties. When pretrial settlement negotiations failed, Stafford Frey partner Mike Bolasina tapped Marchese, an associate and former King County prosecutor with more than 100 trials under her belt, to try the case. Marchese, 38, says it was clear to her that the main issue would be proximate cause, as well as getting jurors to believe a fact pattern she said “seemed like a bizarre episode of ‘The X-Files.’ “ “We knew we had to show Steve how he was in life before Dudley, and Steve how he is now, and show the rapid and stark deterioration — to show the timing of the treatment coincided directly with his demise,” she says. Marchese says that Drummond needs 24-hour assistance and battles delusions and “the fear that at any moment he can cross back into psychosis.” Before the jury began deliberations, the judge gave the plaintiffs directed verdicts on the issues of standard of care and informed consent, holding that it was clear that Drummond’s parents were never told of their son’s course of treatment and that the treatment itself was not defensible under any accepted medical standard. But her eventual victory, contends Marchese, turned on Judge James Orlando’s decision to allow into evidence a 1994 order of suspension by the Washington Medical Disciplinary Board. The order lists similar activities by Dudley regarding other, previous patients. Three other patients described similar experiences at the hands of Dudley. In February of 1993, Dudley allegedly drank with one patient, a minor male, while treating him at a Bellevue, Wash., hotel where they had adjoining rooms. Dudley had brought several firearms with him, and after being administered several drugs, including the sedative sodium amytal, the youth was later found threatening hotel employees with a .44-caliber handgun. Dudley and the boy were eventually arrested at gunpoint. Another patient, in Tucson, Ariz., told investigators that Dudley had told him he was from another planet and “has known” the patient’s brain since 1970. “It is astounding that a doctor with this type of practice was allowed to practice as long as he was,” Marchese says. “The victory was a stunning blow for these types of cases where you have a very vulnerable victim.” Forbis is bitter about Judge Orlando’s ruling. “It was error,” she says. “I argued that it was prejudicial and allowed the jury to make the leap that if he did something wrong with other patients, he must have done it in this case.” Barden, a proponent of “science-intensive” litigation in the mental health field, says that similar malpractice cases are starting to attract the attention of traditional malpractice litigators. Although he has spent the bulk of his consulting work combatting “junk science” in recovered-memory cases, he says, lawyers who were once afraid of the complexities of mental health malpractice cases are starting to rely on the growing “psychotherapy negligence bar” to help bring these suits. Forbis says that lawyers are better suited to simplify complex issues for jurors.

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