Jury awards $105 million to terminal cancer patient in suit against ‘pH Miracle’ author
A San Diego jury sided against the author of the bestselling “pH Miracle” books this week, ordering him to pay $105 million to a cancer patient who said the author held himself out as a doctor and counseled her to forgo traditional medical treatment.
The large award — more than double what the woman had sought — comes roughly 16 months after a criminal case ended with the author, Robert Oldham Young, going to jail for a few months for practicing medicine without a license.
Young, who on Friday called the judgment “a fraud,” has written several books, including the bestselling “The pH Miracle: Balance Your Diet, Reclaim Your Health.” First published in 2002, his flagship book has been translated into several languages.
“It’s totally outrageous,” Young said of the verdict when reached by phone Friday afternoon. “It’s one-tenth of a billion.”
He also said it was “appalling” that the jury awarded so much more than the plaintiff had sought.
Young’s work — and treatments provided at his Valley Center ranch — were based on the theory that acidity in the body is the cause of disease and that an alkaline diet is the answer.
In 2015, cancer patient Dawn Kali sued Young in San Diego County Superior Court alleging negligence and fraud. She said he had advised her to forgo chemotherapy and traditional treatment, and instead go with treatment in line with his alkaline theories.
Patrick Swan, one of Kali’s attorneys, said his 45-year-old client’s oncologist told Kali she has about three or four years to live. She now has stage 4 cancer.
The civil trial in San Diego went roughly seven days, with deliberations lasting less than half a day. The verdict came back Wednesday.
The $105-million award includes nearly $90 million for pain and suffering and $15 million for punitive damages.
Swan said Kali — who has four children, including an 8-year-old — feels “vindicated” by the verdict.
“The jury listened carefully and understood the gravity of the evidence, and rendered a verdict that was commensurate with the damage Ms. Kali suffered, and will suffer,” Swan said.
He also said he hopes the verdict “will have an effect on the miracle, cure-all cancer industry.”
Young’s attorney, Conrad Joyner, said his client believes that his views have been suppressed because they are not in line with the medical establishment.
“No matter if you believe in ‘The pH Miracle’ or disbelieve it, it’s clear that Robert believes it,” Joyner said. “He sincerely believes what he is doing.”
He also said Kali — who at some point worked for Young — was aware that Young’s theories were outside of the establishment.
Young did not have a civil attorney during much of the case. Joyner was retained just a few months ago as it neared trial.
Joyner said he sees the case as “ripe for appeal.”
“I have never heard of a jury case with that much damages where the jury comes back in about three hours,” Joyner said. “I wonder how much thought they really put into it.”
Young said there was “a tremendous amount of evidence” he was not allowed to present to the jury. He said he would appeal.
The year before Kali sued Young, he had landed in criminal court following his arrest in January 2014 after an investigation by the state medical board.
During the criminal trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Gina Darvas painted Young as a charlatan who made money peddling pseudoscience to desperate, dying people.
She argued that Young’s degrees came from a nonaccredited “diploma mill” where Young went from a bachelor’s degree to a doctorate in about eight months in 1995.
The criminal case highlighted his controversial theories and the pricey treatments he offered to seriously ill or dying patients, who in some cases were given intravenous fluids mixed with baking soda at $500 a pop.
Young’s criminal defense attorney argued that his client was under attack for espousing alternatives to traditional medicine. He said people sought Young’s help specifically because he was a naturopathic practitioner, not a doctor.
In early 2016, after weeks of trial, a North County jury found Young guilty of two counts of practicing medicine without a license. The panel deadlocked on several remaining changes.
Facing retrial, Young struck a deal that put an end to the criminal case. He spent several months in jail as part of his sentence.
As part of the deal, the prosecutor insisted on a specific condition: Young had to make a public admission declaring that he is not a microbiologist, hematologist, medical or naturopathic doctor, or trained scientist. He did so in court.
Young’s supporters have defended him and his work and said he was characterized unfairly during his criminal trial and has helped several people.
Treatments are no longer provided at Young’s property, which sits on more than 40 acres.
The estate, known as Rancho del Sol, is up for sale with a $3.2 million price tag. It is also advertised as a place for short-term vacation stays.
During most of the North County criminal case, including trial, Young was represented by a private attorney.
By the time he was sentenced, he was out of money and had to be represented by a public defender.
Figueroa writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.