Paul Lowinger, San Francisco Psychiatrist Sued by Patient for Sexual Abuse – Jury awarded her $7.1 million

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San Francisco Chronicle
Jury awards $7.1 million in suit against psychiatrist
July 6, 1994

Psychiatrist Paul Lowinger

Psychiatrist Paul Lowinger

SAN FRANCISCO — A woman who sued her psychiatrist for sexual abuse has been awarded $7.1 million by a Superior Court jury, apparently the largest verdict of its kind in the country.

The jury handed down its verdict late Friday in favor of Francine Rahn, a 43-year-old former school teacher, finding that she was psychologically and sexually abused for 10 years by her psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Lowinger.

“I hope this verdict sends a message to other therapists that if they take advantage of their vulnerable patients, an American jury will stand up and make sure the patient is fully compensated,” said Rahn’s attorney, John Winer. “I hope this conduct stops because it’s highly unethical and extremely damaging.”

Winer said the verdict not only is the largest in the country in a therapist sexual abuse case, but also may be the largest compensatory damage verdict ever handed down for any kind of psychological injury.

Winer has handled more than 300 similar sexual abuse cases during the last 10 years. He said that before the Rahn case, the largest verdict awarded was $4.6 million in 1981 to a San Diego woman he represented.

Lowinger, who had offices in San Francisco and Oakland, was found guilty in 1992 of felony grand theft, filing false Medi-Cal claims, issuing controlled substances without a medical purpose and a misdemeanor for having sex with patients. He served eight months in Alameda County Jail and paid a $15,000 fine.

According to Winer, Rahn began seeing Lowinger for treatment in 1982 because she was having difficulties with her marriage and wanted support while starting her career as a junior high school teacher.

Rahn claimed in her lawsuit that Lowinger psychologically manipulated her and sexually abused her while fostering her dependence on prescription drugs.

Winer said Rahn began a sexual relationship with Lowinger after their third therapy session. The psychiatrist prescribed Didrex, a highly addictive and toxic diet pill that is usually taken only for brief periods. Rahn took it for five years and became dependent on Lowinger for the drug.

Neuropsychological tests presented at trial showed Rahn had suffered severe cognitive damage as a result of her addiction.

“He undermined her ability to teach and made it extremely difficult as a single mother to take care of her 6-year-old son,” Winer said.

He said Rahn needs intensive psychotherapy and hospitalization and will never be able to teach again.

The large verdict in the Rahn case did not surprise Lowinger’s personal attorney, Ivan Weinberg, who said he expected damages to be awarded in that range.

He presented evidence during the trial that showed Lowinger suffered from a mental deficiency during the incidents with Rahn and was incapable of reasonable behavior.

Weinberg said he tried to convince Lowinger’s insurance carrier, Norcal Mutual Insurance Co. in San Francisco, to settle out of court, but the company refused. He is currently fighting the insurance company’s contention that accusations of sexual misconduct are not covered under Lowinger’s policy.

No decisions have been made about whether Lowinger will appeal the verdict, Weinberg said. The insurance company could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this year, Winer represented another Lowinger patient who claimed the psychiatrist tried to sexually seduce her. That case was settled out of court. Weinberg said Lowinger has two other sexual abuse lawsuits still pending against him that are due to go to trial later this year.