The Texas Supreme Court will hear a case involving a young woman who said she was subjected to a traumatic exorcism at a Colleyville church about a decade ago.
In a 1996 lawsuit against the Pleasant Glade Assembly of God, Laura Schubert described a wild night involving the casting out of demons from the church and two separate attempts to exorcise demons from her.
The 2002 trial of the suit never touched on the religious aspects of the case, and a Tarrant County jury found the church and its members liable for abusing and falsely imprisoning Schubert, who was 17 at the time.
The jury awarded Schubert $300,000 for mental anguish, but the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth last year shaved $122,000 from the verdict for loss of future income, saying that the church members could not foresee that their actions would cause her to lose the ability to earn money.
One of the principal issues being raised by the church is whether the mental-anguish damages can be awarded if they are based on a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. The church also questions the reliability of the expert witnesses’ testimony during the trial on that condition.
In addition, the church raises the question of whether the Fort Worth appeals court erred when it said Pleasant Glades’ First Amendment rights regarding freedom of religion do not prevent the church from being held liable for mental distress triggered by a “hyper spiritualistic environment.”
Meanwhile, Schubert’s attorneys are questioning whether the appeals court was wrong in reducing the jury award.
David Pruessner, the Dallas attorney representing the church, said he was not surprised that the court decided to hear the case because of a string of large jury awards regarding post-traumatic stress disorder.
William Wuester, Schubert’s attorney in Fort Worth, declined to comment.
Schubert testified in 2002 that she was cut and bruised and later experienced hallucinations as a result of the church members’ actions in 1996. She also said the incident led her to mutilate herself and attempt suicide. Schubert eventually sought psychiatric help.
But Pruessner told the jury that Schubert’s psychological problems were caused by traumatic events she witnessed while with her parents in Africa.
He said that Schubert had “freaked out” about following her father’s life as a missionary and that she was acting out to gain attention.
After the 2002 verdict, Pleasant Glade merged with another congregation in Colleyville.
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