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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Donna Karan’s ‘Healer’ Still on the Hook

MANHATTAN (CN) - An unlicensed physical therapist must face claims that he injured a client with Eastern-influenced "healing treatments" in the bedroom of fashion designer Donna Karan, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet dismissed a claim against Karan and her company, Urban Zen, in the amended complaint brought by Florida resident Jamie Naughright. But the healer, Stephen Robbins, must face Naughright's claims of negligence, medical malpractice, battery and failure to obtain consent.

"Robbins's treatment included applying traction to Naughright's neck, following by violent shaking of her head repeatedly from side to side," according to Sweet's summary of the amended complaint. "Robbins held Naughright's forehead down and pulled on her jaw. He also placed an ungloved hand adorned by a large ring inside Naughright's mouth and then shook Naughright's head. While Robbins's hand was in Naughright's mouth, Robbins informed Naughright that she needed to 'let go' because she had control issues. Robbins then offered to massage Naughright's breasts and declared that Naughright's left breast was dead. Robbins suggested that Naughright needed a 'vagina release' procedure. Naughright refused these treatments."

Naughright filed her original complaint against Robbins, Karan and Urban Zen in November 2010. Karan and Robbins moved to dismiss the complaint, and the Southern District conceded on Nov. 18, 2011.

In an amended complaint filed the following month, Naughright alleged six causes of action: negligent misrepresentation against Karan and Urban Zen; and negligence, fraud, medical malpractice, battery, and failure to obtain consent against Robbins.

Naughright, who has a background in athletic training, worked for Urban Zen from 2007 to 2010 as director of its Urban Zen Integrative Therapist program.

In 2009, Karan and Urban Zen promoted the program with a promotional event called the New York Healing Weekend, which took place at Karan's home at 55 Central Park West and at Steven Weiss Studios.

Prior to the event, Karan allegedly told Naughright that she had been treated by Robbins, whom she described as a "talented healer." Karan wanted to bring Robbins into the zen therapy program, and made part of the Healing Weekend event. Naughright said that Karan and Urban Zen also led her to believe that Robbins was a licensed physician when, in reality, he had not held a medical license for years.

Karan allegedly knew that Naughright would have objected to the participation of an unlicensed practitioner like Robbins.

But Sweet concluded that that Naughright "alleges no facts to suggest that information about the true nature of Robbins's qualifications was 'peculiarly within' the Karan defendants' knowledge and could not be discovered by Naughright's 'exercise of ordinary intelligence.'"

Naughright says Karan called her on Nov. 8, 2009, during the New York Healing Weekend. She had just left Karan's home to participate in the event at the Stephen Weiss studios, but "Karan ... insisted that Naughright return to Karan's apartment immediately to be treated by Robbins," according to the court's summary of the suit. "When Naughright arrived at the apartment, Karan emerged from a bedroom, greeted Naughright, raved about Robbins's healing abilities and informed Naughright that she would be treated by him."

Karan led Naughright into her bedroom where a massage table had been set up. The designer then left the room, leaving Naughright alone with Robbins and his wife. Naughright claims that Robbins did not present her with any consent forms or ask her for any medical background information.

The treatment ultimately caused a rupture of a cervical disk in Naughright's neck, stenosis and a mid-thoracic herniated disc, according to the complaint.

"Robbins also fractured and dislocated Naughright's jaw, causing damage to her hearing and balance, and the treatments caused a spinal fusion which has required a bone graft in Naughright's neck," Sweet summarized. "As a result of these injuries, Naughright has had to undergo surgeries and diagnostic procedures, and she has been diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome and double crush syndrome. Naughright was unable to drive a car for more than a year, was unable to perform daily tasks and was unable to return to her employment. Although Naughright has regained some function, she is physically unable to pursue her profession as an athletic trainer and continues to have debilitating pain and discomfort."

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