CLEARWATER · The Church of Scientology has unexpectedly settled a lawsuit stemming from the death of one of its members in 1995.
Lisa McPherson, 36, died after 17 days of care by Scientology staff members. The suit, filed in February 1997 by McPherson’s relatives, accused the staff members of letting McPherson become severely dehydrated and die.
The church said McPherson died from a pulmonary embolism, the result of a minor traffic accident she had the day before she was brought to the church. Scientology’s spiritual headquarters is in Clearwater.
Terms of the settlement, reached Wednesday after several days of mediation, were not released.
Lawyer Luke Lirot, who assisted the McPherson estate, said, “It was the best way to get these matters resolved and let everyone move on.”
The settlement reached last week was a “global settlement,” Lirot said, meaning all other cases related to McPherson’s death also will end.
McPherson, originally from Dallas, moved to Florida in 1994 with her employer, a marketing firm operated and staffed largely by Scientologists.
The civil lawsuit spawned a number of related legal actions, as McPherson’s death became a rallying point for the anti-Scientology movement.
Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar, an attorney for the McPherson estate, accused church leaders of intentionally allowing McPherson to die to avoid a public relations flap.
In turn, the church accused Dandar of trying to undermine Scientology and its leadership, with the financial backing of millionaire Robert Minton, then the church’s chief critic.
But in April 2003, Minton accused Dandar of urging him to lie under oath, drawing up false court records and pushing him to drum up anti-Scientology publicity. Dandar contended Minton’s testimony was extorted by the church.