Church pays $8.6million to man who says it nearly drove him to suicide. Its critics hail resolution of 22-year-old case as a great victory against its practices.
The Church of Scientology handed over $8.6 million this week to resolve the lawsuit of a former member who charged that the controversial church caused him to develop bipolar disorder and nearly drove him to suicide.
The payment came nearly 22 years after Lawrence Wollersheim, 53, filed his 1980 lawsuit, and nearly 16 years after a California jury awarded him $30 million.
In the intervening years, the award was reduced on appeal to $2.5 million and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was upheld in 1994. Meanwhile, the $2.5 million collected 10% interest and eventually grew to $8,674,843, which was deposited Thursday with the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Church officials said they paid the money because they wanted to put the matter behind them.
But critics of Scientology hailed the payment as a momentous event.
"This is an absolute watershed," said Arnie Lerma, 52, an ex-Scientologist who manages a Web site devoted to critiquing the religion. Lerma said he hopes the award will convince other ex-Scientologists to file their own lawsuits.
In his case, Wollersheim, who joined the church in 1969 and left it in 1980, charged that Scientology's courses and rites drove him to a deep depression and stole his ability to think for himself.
At one point, according to his lawsuit, he was held on a ship and deprived of food and sleep, which caused him to develop bipolar disorder.
Wollersheim, who lives in Nevada, said that after he left the church, Scientologists tried to drive his novelty business into the ground through boycotts and nonpayment on requested merchandise.
On his Web site, www.factnet .org, Wollersheim issued a statement: "The cult that vowed it would never pay me one thin dime has now paid over 86 million thin dimes."