Man sues psychiatrist for breaking up marriage

By Steve Porter
The Coloradoan
1998

A Fort Collins psychiatrist is being sued in Larimer District Court for contributing to the end of a marriage by establishing a friendship with a patient that grew into a sexual relationship.

Christian Hageseth III is being sued by Paul Burson for professional negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and outrageous conduct. The lawsuit, which is being heard by a six-person jury, does not ask for specific damages.

Burson claims Hageseth’s treatment of his wife, Laurel, eventually resulted in Hageseth and Laurel Burson forming a sexual relationship and Laurel Burson filing for divorce.

The parties in the lawsuit disagree over several significant points, including when Laurel Burson’s therapy with Hageseth ended and when the sexual relationship began.

Hageseth, in one court document, claimed the therapy ended in July 1995. But another document indicates he treated Laurel Burson from 1988 and “into July 1996.”

Hageseth admitted in a pretrial deposition that he first had sex with Laurel Burson in June 1996.

Colorado state law, adopted in 1993, forbids medical providers from having a sexual relationship with a patient until six months after the end of treatment. Violating the law is a felony.

Also in dispute is whether Paul Burson should be considered a patient of Hageseth and thereby deserving of protection from harm resulting from a therapist’s actions.

Burson claims to have been a Hageseth client, visiting his office numerous times over a period of several years primarily in conjunction with his wife’s treatment.

But Hageseth claims Paul Burson was never a client, that he was never treated as a patient and was never personally billed for his services. Dr. Jon Bell, director of the anxiety and depression clinic at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver, testified Monday as an expert witness for Burson. He said he believed Paul Burson was Hageseth’s client. Bell said Hageseth’s actions should have been foreseen as detrimental to the Bursons as co-clients.

“Dr. Hageseth was aware of Mr. Burson’s desire to continue his relationship, and Dr. Hageseth forming a relationship with Miss Burson made it foreseeable that an injury was likely to Mr. Burson,” Bell said. ‘if the therapist acted as a marriage counselor, both patients, husband and wife, were unquestionably patients of that therapist.”

A four-man, two-woman jury received the case late Monday and will return today to resume deliberations.

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