A 44-year-old corporate secretary who has accused her former psychiatrist of medical malpractice, alleging that he began an affair with her during therapy sessions, recounted details yesterday in Montgomery County Circuit Court of the couple's 2 1/2-year involvement.
Frances M. Dawson told the jury of nine women and three men impaneled to consider whether she should receive monetary damages that she fell in love with Dr. Gerald H. Fink, 53, during twice weekly therapy sessions begun in 1979. She said she underwent therapy to help her gain independence from her husband, who was being sent to prison on a conviction of illegal gambling.
Six months after the therapy began, Dawson testified, she began arguing with her husband and told Fink, "I'm a little embarrassed but I think I'm falling in love with you."
Dawson said she began writing "love poetry" to Fink in two clothbound notebooks, which she said the doctor encouraged her to read to him. Often the therapy sessions would consist of her reading him the poems, she said. "He would just listen and close his eyes," Dawson testified.
Her relationship with her husband and three children crumbled and in July 1980, Dawson moved into a Largo apartment with her mother, she testified. At the next therapy session, she said, she walked in and said, "Dr. Fink, I've just left my family and I'm so frightened, could you hold me." Then Fink took her in his arms, she testified, and passionately kissed her.
Kissing and petting became routine during therapy sessions, Dawson testified. Then, in October 1980, Dawson said, the two made love on the sofa of the office Fink maintained in his Silver Spring home.
Dawson testified that Fink told her to keep her medical insurance checks and promised to "always be your doctor," then began to schedule the therapy session in the evenings. She said she used an insurance check to buy a pink nightgown, which she wore at the next therapy session as a "surprise."
The couple began dating and moved in together in January of 1982, after Fink separated from his wife, Dawson testified. But Dawson said that Fink warned her that he was sexually involved with other women patients to whom he gave "complimentary visits" and that she "must accept it." Asked by her lawyer, Henry Weil, whether that upset her, Dawson replied, "Oh no, Mr. Weil, Dr. Fink could never do any wrong in my eyes."
Fink stared intently at Dawson while she testified for more than two hours, stuttering softly at times and frequently losing her train of thought. Dawson said she had taken a tranquilizer before taking the stand yesterday on the advice of her current psychiatrist.
In opening arguments Monday, Steven R. Migdal, Fink's lawyer, said the doctor ended therapy sessions with Dawson in September of 1980 after he realized they had fallen in love. Calling her a woman scorned by their breakup 2 1/2 years later, Migdal said Dawson and Fink were "two consenting adults who embarked on a relationship."
"If Dr. Fink is guilty of anything, he's guilty of falling in love and of breaking up with the woman he fell in love with," Migdal argued.
But a state Health Claims Arbitration Panel disagreed, ordering Fink last Aug. 22 to pay Dawson $374,966 in compensatory and punitive damage, an award that Fink is appealing in circuit court.