Sylvia Sky, astrologer, Tarot reader, and gemstone enthusiast, is a widely published author of books and articles about spiritual matters.
What She Said Wasn't True! Can I Sue?
Yes, you can sue a psychic. But courts tend not to sympathize with customers dissatisfied with occult and spiritual services. In a nation with religious freedom, anybody can practice as a psychic, medium, crystal gazer, santero or what have you; no certifications are required to practice and there are no professional standards. What works and what doesn't is entirely subjective. And courts rule on reason and evidence.
Most lawsuits against psychics are not for distress or damages caused by "wrong predictions." Psychic Sylvia Browne appeared weekly on U.S. television for years telling families that missing loved ones were dead when they were not, or alive when they were not, and a detailed study of 115 pronouncements showed Browne was right exactly 0 times. She was never convicted of being a fraudulent psychic, only for grand theft for falsely selling shares in a gold mine. Giving inaccurate or unethical advice is not a crime. Lawsuits aren't about principles or incorrect predictions; they are about money spent by customers who didn't get what they paid for. Or they are about overly aggressive marketing and billing. One way or another they have to be about money.
Lawsuits That Made Psychics Pay
In one of the two most publicized "psychic" lawsuits, the court ruled against a pioneering phone-psychic company called Psychic Friends Network, not because clients complained that their "readings" were wrong or unsatisfying but because of its billing practices. A huge moneymaker in the 1990s, it went bankrupt in 1998. Another U.S. psychic network headed by "Miss Cleo" was shut down in 2002 by the Federal Trade Commission for advertising free phone readings that cost customers up to $100 per call, telling customers they were obliged to pay when they weren't, and aggressive and even abusive telemarketing. "Miss Cleo's" operation was required to forgive the debts of customers who it said owed them millions, $44.3 million in Florida alone, and to undo the damage done to customers' credit ratings.
Self-proclaimed "America's Psychic" Sean David Morton filed suit to try to stop an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that in 2010 led to charges of civil fraud against Morton and his wife. The two allegedly coaxed $6 million from 100 investors persuaded that Morton could predict the stock market. The SEC sued him not for lying but because the money was not invested as promised. The result was a summary judgement, which means Morton's side did not cooperate so the SEC won. Some of the individual investors successfully sued the Mortons in private lawsuits.
Many people who feel scammed are too embarrassed to sue. Some just take the loss and some will be satisfied with their money back. Psychic scams were added to Great Britain's consumer-protection law in 2008, and that's why so many sites now say "for entertainment only," a shield that most online and phone psychics have adopted. Under U.S. consumer law you can sue a scammer but your total award is usually limited to three times what you paid.
Some who can't get their money back try other tactics. In 2013, a British man fell in love with his psychic, who predicted that she and he would marry. The man divorced his wife, sold all he owned to give money to the psychic, and after almost a year realized he'd been scammed. Unable to get his money back, he did all he could to publicize her scam and ruin her business. The psychic sued him for harassment. The judge in this case sided with the man, who returned to his wife.
How Psychics Win
Today, when every grocery store posts that it "is not responsible" for damage caused by its grocery carts, diviners whether real or fakes also guard themselves carefully. Astrologers and psychics who meet with clients in person now record every consultation. The words "for entertainment only" let a psychic website or phone bank disclaim any responsibility for what the client believes or does. Clients really do chuck their husbands and fly to Venezuela because a psychic told them they'd meet their "twin soul" there next week -- and then, when they meet no one, want to sue. If the site's "Terms of Service" said "for entertainment only," the client has no grounds for a lawsuit. Read the fine print or "Terms of Service" on every psychic website, advertisement, or contract. Some openly say that they guarantee nothing, their testimonials do not represent the "average" consumer experience, and so on.
- In 2011, millionaire Adam Robinson, inventor of the "Princeton Review" test-prep service and bestselling author, helped his "psychic" girlfriend, Laura Day, get a contract for her book Practical Intuition and claimed she manipulated him psychologically to do most of the writing of that book and other books. He sued her for $14 million and lost.
- In a 2010 lawsuit, a psychic was accused of duping a troubled New Jersey woman into giving her $160,000 in cash and gifts. The psychic told the woman she was suffering from a "curse" and cultivated the woman's trust and friendship, promising to remove the curse. The client got $19,000 back and that was all.
- In 2009, a South Dakota woman sued for the return of $30,500 she paid a psychic who promised to bring her husband back and didn't. She also sued for $50,000 in punitive damages. The psychic fled the state.
- In 2009, a client sued "Elaine's Astrology" for the $23,000 she'd spent plus $1 million in damages for being emotionally exploited for money. The article said the plaintiff must prove "that she 'reasonably relied' on Elaine's" advice, adding that any transaction with a psychic could never be called reasonable. Elaine's Astrology settled with the plaintiff for an undisclosed amount the day before the trial was to start.
Winning a case against a psychic is a long shot. If you can prove a psychic said your husband did not have cancer when he did, and prove that she presented that information as fact and an expert opinion, and prove that her reading contributed to his death, and that his death caused you quantifiable damages, you might have a case—if you can get a lawyer to take it. The courts, and most everyone else, will certainly ask why you consulted a psychic instead of a doctor about your sickly husband and will probably conclude that you and not the psychic were the irresponsible party.
Your "irresponsibility" in this case has its roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition underlying Western culture. While it has its own occult beliefs, this tradition warns against magic, astrologers, witches, seers and others whom it believes claim spiritual powers belonging only to God. Their crime is called blasphemy. Jesus was arrested and tried for blasphemy. The Biblical penalty for false prophets is death (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Even if you don't accept this tradition, Western culture, including its legal system, is built on it. According to this tradition seeking occult services is at worst a sin and at best plain foolish.
Laws differ everywhere, and the fine distinctions that religious and occult practitioners make do not count in court. For example, fortunetelling was illegal in St. Louis, Missouri until 2013, so local psychic fairs and New Age shops were outside the city limits. "Fortunetelling" covers everything from tea leaves to Tarot cards, and one could argue all day that astrology or palmistry is an art and a science, not mere "fortunetelling," which in the occult world is a derogatory term; yet in the eyes of the law, they're all the same.
© 2012 Sylvia Sky