Jury awards $5 million in False Memory Syndrome case

Saturday, March 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) _ A jury ordered therapists and an insurance company to pay $5 million in damages to the family of a dead woman for making her falsely believe that she had been abused by her relatives.

The parents of Nancy Anneatra _ who had accused her parents and brother of physically and sexually abusing her _ sued for damages caused by her accusations and the jury decided Friday that she had been a victim of abuse by the therapists, not her family.

Jurors said Dr. H. Berit Midelfort of Edina, Minn., and Celia Lausted of Colfax, along with Midwest Medical Insurance Co., should pay Delores and Tom Sawyer and their daughter's estate $5.08 million.

The Sawyers, of Motley, Minn., cried as the verdict was read.

``This is a tragedy that has happened to the Sawyer family, a lot of families,'' said Madison attorney Bill Smoler, an attorney for the family.

Thomas Jacobson, an attorney for Midelfort, and Lausted's attorney, Thomas Misfeldt, did not comment.

The case centered on so-called False Memory Syndrome _ described by some as a psychological condition in which a person believes he or she remembers events that have not occurred.

Anneatra, then Nancy Sawyer, received counseling in 1984 from Lausted and a psychiatrist not named in the lawsuit. She was in her 20s at the time.

After a year of treatment, she accused her parents of physically and sexually abusing her as a child.

The Sawyers denied the abuse, but the daughter severed all ties with them and changed her name.

In 1987, she was treated by Midelfort, and a year later she sued her parents for civil damages for alleged abuse. The suit was dismissed. She continued receiving therapy until she died in 1995.