The Scientology Money Project

The Death of Dr. Susan Booth – Part 2: The Problems of Her Scientologist Family Suing for Emotional Damages

Can Scientology audit out the horror and pain of having survived a plane crash during which a family member was killed?

As we introduced in Part 1, Scientologist Susan Booth, a dentist, was killed in the crash of a private plane owned and piloted by her father Dr. Mark Sajjadi. She was 44 years old when she perished. Also onboard the plane were her husband Steve Funderburg and her son Mark Booth. Her father, husband, and son survived the crash which took place immediately after takeoff on August 5, 2001 in Weaverville, California. The three survivors, all Scientologists, sued the US Government and Trinity County, California for general negligence; wrongful death; and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The Funderburg case is fascinating to examine as it put the Scientologist plaintiffs and Psychiatry on a direct collision course in a court of law.

Scientologists have an intense, embedded, and doctrinal hatred of Psychiatry. Conversely, courts of law deem Forensic Psychiatry the necessary science required to make evaluations where claims of emotional damages are at contest in both civil and criminal matters.

The Scientologist plaintiffs refused to submit to any examination by a Forensic Psychiatrist based upon their religious opposition to Psychiatry. What would the Court do?

The three family members who were aboard the Beechcraft Bonanza when it crashed and killed Scientologist Dr. Susan Booth on August 5, 2001 filed a lawsuit against the United States and Trinity County, California.

The plaintiffs:
Steve Funderburg: Susan Booth’s husband.
Mark Booth: The 11 year old son of Susan Booth by another marriage.
Dr. Mark Sajjadi: The father of Susan Booth.

Despite the claimed power of Scientology to erase emotional trauma by auditing, the three plaintiffs nevertheless alleged emotional damages in their lawsuit.

This presents a contradiction of belief. If Scientology auditing can erase engrams —   which contain mental image pictures created in moments of pain and unconsciousness — then Scientology should have been able to erase all emotional damages from the airplane crash. But this did not happen and Scientology did not work as advertised.

When plaintiffs sue for emotional distress, which can also be called emotional damages, they must prove emotional damages. The burden to prove emotional damages put the Scientologist plaintiffs into a series of conundrums.

Based upon long established legal procedure, emotional damages have to be proven in court. The established procedure is to have an expert third-party forensic psychiatrist conduct an “Independent Medical Examination” (IME) to diagnose and verify the extent of the claimed emotional damages. For example, some people claim emotional damages but are lying or exaggerating in hopes of getting a large legal settlement. This is why independent experts are needed to assess and evaluate emotional damage claims.

Many other experts were needed in the Funderburg case to examination aviation rules; the physical injuries to the survivors; what happened to cause the plane to impact the treeline located after the end of the runway; and to review the autopsy on Dr. Susan Booth to determine the cause of death. An airplane crash with a fatality, or fatalities, requires a complex investigation by experts, some of whom disagree with each other.

In the case of claimed emotional damages in the Funderburg lawsuit, a forensic psychiatrist was needed to conduct the IME of the plaintiffs. What does a forensic psychiatrist do? This graphic answers the question:

This scope of what a forensic psychiatrist does during an Independent Medical Examination would become important in the Funderburg case.

The three plaintiffs in the Funderburg refused to undergo IME’s based upon their “religious opposition to psychiatrists.” The refusal of the plaintiffs is rooted in Scientology’s view that “Psychs” are part of an evil extraterrestrial race who came to Earth to implant and enslave the human race by using Psych drugs, lobotomies, and electroshock. A Scientologist would never submit to a psychiatric evaluation. In one of the membership contracts all Scientologists must sign, they contractually agree that they are unalterably opposed to Psychiatry.

David Rand, the attorney for the plaintiffs, fired off this email to opposing counsel. This was just over three years to the day after the crash on August 5, 2001. The case was moving slowly and psychiatric examinations remained a non-negotiable issue:

In this email, attorney Rand argues that his clients are not suing for “specific psychiatric injury” but rather for “general emotional distress.” In doing so, Rand attempted to differentiate emotional distress from a psychiatric diagnosis. However, this is both evasive and misleading on Rand’s part as the matter at issue was an Independent Medical Examination to determine emotional damages. The Defendants never asked for a psychiatric diagnosis of the plaintiffs.

Attorney Rand reiterated that his clients were are opposed to psychiatry on religious grounds. The Scientology contract captioned Agreement and General Release Regarding Spiritual Assistance, which all Scientologists must sign, is fanatic in its denunciation of psychiatry:

b. Scientology is unalterably opposed, as a matter of religious belief, to the practice of psychiatry, and espouses as a religious belief that the study of the mind and the healing of mentally caused ills should not be alienated from religion or condoned in nonreligious fields. I am in full agreement with this religious belief. I do not believe in or subscribe to psychiatric labels for individuals. It is my strongly held religious belief that all mental problems are spiritual in nature and that there is no such thing as a mentally incompetent person — only those suffering from spiritual upset of one kind or another dramatized by an individual. I reject all psychiatric labels and intend for this Contract to clearly memorialize my desire to be helped exclusively through religious, spiritual means and not through any form of psychiatric treatment, specifically including involuntary commitment based on so-called lack of competence. Under no circumstances, at any time, do I wish to be denied my right to care from members of my religion to the exclusion of psychiatric care or psychiatric directed care, regardless of what any psychiatrist, medical person, designated member of the state or family member may assert supposedly on my behalf. If circumstances should ever arise in which government, medical, or psychiatric officials or personnel or family members or friends attempt to compel or coerce or commit me for psychiatric evaluation, treatment or hospitalization, I fully desire and fully expect that the Church or Scientologists will intercede on my behalf to oppose such efforts and/or extricate me from that predicament so my spiritual needs may be addressed in accordance with the tenets of the Scientology religion.

c. As I so strongly disagree. as a matter of religious principle, with the use of psychiatric treatment for anyone, including myself, I reject the usage of psychiatric labels and I believe in assisting individuals through religious and spiritual means. Therefore, I am hereby specifying that should I get into a situation in the future, unlikely as it is, where others may think that I need psychiatric treatment of any kind. that I instead desire to receive Scientology spiritual assistance and that it can include. but is not limited to, the Introspection Rundown. Further, I realize that in the future it may consequently be suggested by a senior Scientology minister, should the need arise, that I receive such spiritual assistance. and again, I want to make it dear that under such circumstances I desire to receive Scientology Spiritual Assistance, which may include, but not be limited to, the Introspection Rundown.

US Federal and State law are quite clear on the matter: When a person sues for physical and/or emotional damages, this places their physical and mental condition in controversy, i.e. were they truly injured as they claim? As such, the defendants being sued have a legal right to demand that the parties suing them undergo medical and psychological examinations.

The defendants have the additional right to make the parties suing them submit to medical examinations conducted by doctors provided by the defense. The logic behind this is simple and designed to prevent lawsuits for bogus injuries as if often seen in Workman’s Comp cases, or in personal injuries cases. For instance, if a plaintiff claims his back was permanently injured on the job or during an accident, he or she must undergo a medical examination by doctors provided by the party he is suing.

Defense Medical Examinations (DME’s) often become rancorous, There are legal motions back and forth to ensure that the plaintiff is not being examined in a biased or prejudicial manner by doctors hired by the defense. The defense is interested in finding preexisting conditions, minimizing the claimed injuries, etc. in order to reduce any potential financial award or get the case dismissed. Personal injury cases can get quite ugly.

An Independent Medical Examination is conducted by a doctor that does not work for either the plaintiff or the defendant. This method of having an outside expert conduct an examination acts as a safeguard against doctors that may be prejudiced for, or against, the plaintiff(s) in a given legal case.

Here is a hypothetical example: If Brenda Smith was truly injured as claimed and the facts are there to support it, her attorney will gladly produce medical evidence in the form MRI’s; x-rays; medical records from surgery; provide a list of prescription painkillers; statements from eyewitnesses, etc.  Brenda Smith will also gladly to submit to medical examinations by the doctors working for the defense as well as an independent expert.

With Attorney Rand so vigorously opposing an IME, however, an outsider might naturally think that the plaintiffs had something to hide. What is missing in the case of an outsider looking in, of course, is Scientology’s absolute burning hatred for psychiatry.

Scientologist Danny Masterson, who is criminally charged with three felony counts of forcible rape in California, railed against psychiatry in a 2015 interview he gave to Paperclip magazine:

Q: Another thing you hear is that Scientology and psychiatry are pitted against each other…
A: Yes. You will not find a Scientologist who does not fucking hate psychiatrists… (Psychiatrists) basically have this fuckin’ manual that has, what, 5,000 disorders in it, that you just bill your insurance company — “Oh, you have PMS disorder, you have caffeine-addict disorder, you have mathematics disorder; here, take Prozac” — what the fuck is that?… That’s the solution to depression, not fuckin’ Prozac and whatever other pill that makes the kid then walk into a goddamn school and kill other kids.

As the court record shows, Dr. Sajjadi and young Mark Booth eventually relented and agreed to a basic “pen and paper” IME. But this was not easily accomplished as the plaintiffs fought it all the way.

Scientologist Steve Funderburg, however, flatly refused to be examined by a psychiatrist. The defendants were left with no choice but to file a motion to compel Funderburg to undergo an Independent Medical Examination. The defendants argued that this was necessary in order to defend themselves:

Steven Funderburg claimed intentional infliction of emotional distress and had therefore placed his mental condition in controversy. The burden of proving emotional distress fell upon Funderburg.

The Scientologist plaintiffs further claimed extreme emotional damages as they were forced to personally witness the death of Dr. Susan Booth. The defense used this claim to argue that the plaintiffs were therefore subject to the same higher degree of examination as happened in Reuter v. Superior Court (Cal. App. 1979). We draw the reader’s attention to this section of the defense argument and have yellow-highlighted a particularly interesting defense footnote:

The yellow-highlighted section reveals details of the crash. The court record indicates that Steve Funderburg exited the crashed aircraft through the front passenger side door as did his stepson Mark. This was incredible on young Mark’s part as he had a congenital medical condition which confined him to a wheelchair.

Both Funderburg and his stepson were transported by ambulance to a local hospital. While being prepared for transport to the hospital, Funderburg saw his wife being removed from the backseat of the plane on a stretcher. The records indicate he did not not learn of her death until several hours later at the hospital.

Dr. Sajjadi, on the other hand, was knocked unconscious in the crash. Worse, he was trapped in the heavily damaged Beechcraft Bonanza and had to be extricated by the rescue team. He was in a coma for some time and did not learn of his daughter’s death until he came out of the coma. Dr. Sajjadi suffered neurological damage and could not remember much about the crash, his preparation for the flight that day, or even landing at the airport in Weaverville.

November 5, 2004: The Court issued an Order compelling Steve Funderburg to undergo an Independent Medical Examination. The Court order was preceded by negotiations between the parties to define and limit the extent and the scope of the IME.

The court was judicious in taking Funderburg’s Scientology beliefs into account. The fact that a forensic psychiatrist assesses and evaluates and does not perform any medical treatment or prescribe medications allowed the Court to compel an IME of Steve Funderburg without his being subjected to psychiatric treatment as a patient, i.e. an evaluation is not treatment and does not require the administration of any psychiatric medications.

Funderburg’s choice was to comply with the Court’s order or refuse and risk sanctions. A refusal to submit to the court-ordered IME could seriously jeopardize Funderburg’s case to the extent he would not be able to prove the emotional damages he was alleging.

The Court Order Compelling the Independent Medical Examination of plaintiff Steve Funderburg: 

2 replies »

  1. I Corinthians 6:1-3: “If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!”

    So does this mean that a Christian being sued by another Christian gets to object to the presence of an “ungodly” judge in court or the presence of “ungodly” lawyers in a deposition, and call for the suit’s dismissal on religious grounds? Sort of like a “sovereign citizen” of the Kingdom of God? Good luck trying…

    In any event, this is a fascinating account. I hope to hear more about it soon! Well done!

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