Doctor settles his part of lawsuit in death of Scientologist

Published Sept. 15, 1998|Updated Sept. 13, 2005

A Clearwater doctor who declared Scientologist Lisa McPherson dead when she arrived at a New Port Richey hospital in December 1995 has paid her estate $100,000 to settle his portion of a wrongful death suit McPherson's family filed against the Church of Scientology and others.

James Felman, the Tampa lawyer who represents Dr. David Minkoff, said two medical malpractice insurance companies paid the entire amount.

"It wasn't our idea to settle," Felman said. "But given that the insurance company is going to pay the money, it is a pittance compared to the millions and millions they were asking for."

Felman said he doesn't believe the lawsuit merited the money because McPherson was dead before Minkoff ever saw her at Community Hospital in New Port Richey.

The Scientologists who were taking care of McPherson at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater drove her to New Port Richey where Minkoff, a Scientologist, was on duty. He had prescribed medication by telephone before her death.

The wrongful death suit is pending in Hillsborough County Circuit Court against the Church of Scientology and several officials who participated in taking care of McPherson.

Ken Dandar, the Tampa lawyer who represents the McPherson estate, declined to discuss details of the settlement. But he said he agreed to accept Minkoff's offer because the doctor's involvement in her death was based on false reports he received from others.

"He saw her after she was dead, so he couldn't cause any damage to her," Dandar said. "Dr. Minkoff was extremely nervous and anxious to settle this case."

McPherson's family filed suit against Scientology, Minkoff and others in 1997. The suit accuses Scientologists of conspiring to keep McPherson, 36, in isolation inside the Fort Harrison against her will. Instead of calling emergency medical technicians or taking her to nearby Morton Plant Hospital, the Scientologists drove McPherson 45 minutes north to New Port Richey, where Minkoff was on duty.

McPherson was held at the Fort Harrison for 17 days after she was involved in a minor traffic accident. Scientologists say she suddenly fell ill, suggest she had a staph infection and deny holding her against her will.

But Dr. Joan Wood, the medical examiner in Pinellas County, says McPherson died a slow death from a blood clot brought on by dehydration and bed rest. Wood says she went without fluids for several days and was unconscious for up to two days before her death.

In addition to the lawsuit, a criminal investigation into McPherson's death is ongoing. Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe has yet to make a decision about who, if anyone, will be prosecuted. Agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Clearwater police have recommended filing criminal charges.

In death, McPherson has become the subject of a number of pages on the World Wide Web where Scientology critics have published autopsy pictures and copies of the care notes taken by Scientologists in the days before she died. Critics also picket Scientology centers all over the world with McPherson's picture and accusations that Scientology killed her.