The New York Times
December 17, 1994, Saturday, Late Edition – Final
SECTION: Section 1; Page 9; Column 2; National Desk
LENGTH: 416 words
DATELINE: PITTSBURGH, Dec. 16
A jury awarded more than $272,000 today to a couple and their teen-age daughter, who had joined in a suit charging a psychiatrist with failure to evaluate the girl’s accusations of parental sex abuse.
The parents, Richard and Cheryl Althaus, had been arrested and charged with sex abuse before their daughter, Nicole, recanted. They won $213,899 in their malpractice lawsuit against the psychiatrist, Dr. Judith Cohen, and the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh. The jury, in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, awarded $58,333 to Miss Althaus, who is 19.
Dr. Cohen began seeing Miss Alt haus in 1991, after the girl had told the authorities she had been abused. Dr. Cohen diagnosed her patient’s condition as post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by sexual abuse.
“She saw the diagnosis as a certainty and did not check out anything else,” Mr. Althaus said after the verdict today. “You can’t do that. She was the key person in the entire system. For a jury to find that she was at fault is a great victory.”
The couple told the jury that their daughter’s 100 therapy sessions, their lost wages as a result of her accusations and other costs had totaled about $160,000.
Dr. Cohen and Jeffrey Wiley, a lawyer who represented her and the hospital, left the courthouse today without commenting. In testimony, Dr. Cohen had argued that her job had been to treat Miss Althaus, not investigate the patient’s accusations. And Mr. Wiley had contended that challenging Miss Althaus’s claims during therapy could have deepened her depression and undermined her confidence.
After Miss Althaus made her charges of abuse, the authorities arrested her parents and put her into foster care.
Some of the girl’s claims were immediately discounted: She said that her grandmother flew about on a broom, that she had been tortured with a medieval thumbscrew device, that she had borne three children who were killed and that she had been raped in view of diners in a crowded restaurant.
Prosecutors dropped the charges against the parents when the girl refused to testify against them.
The family, which lives in the well-to-do Pittsburgh suburb of Mount Lebanon, reconciled after Miss Alt haus told a judge in 1992 that she had made everything up.
When the verdict was read today, Mrs. Althaus closed her eyes, sighed and held her husband’s hand across their daughter’s lap. Miss Althaus, smiling, said afterward, “I’m going back to college.”