The Associated Press State & Local Wire

October 9, 1998, Friday, PM cycle

Doctor should have disclosed colleague’s pedophilia, jury says

BYLINE: By DENISE LAVOIE, Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 866 words


A federal jury found that a psychiatrist was negligent when he failed to take any action after another doctor confessed his pedophilic tendencies during a therapy session and was later accused of molesting three young boys.
On Thursday, a jury said that Dr. Joseph DeMasi’s psychiatrist, Dr. Douglas Ingram, was partly to blame for the molestation of one of the boys because he did not warn anyone about DeMasi.
The verdict’s impact on the principle of doctor-patient confidentiality was not immediately clear. One expert said the circumstances of the case were unique enough to minimize its effect, but others felt the jury’s decision could have a chilling effect on the sacred trust patients feel with their psychiatrists.
As part of his training to become a psychoanalyst, DeMasi underwent psychotherapy sessions with Ingram in the mid-1980s. During the sessions, DeMasi admitted fantasizing about having sex with children.
DeMasi went on to become a child psychiatrist. He later was charged with molesting three boys, including a 10-year-old boy who was being treated at Danbury Hospital for suicidal tendencies.
The child’s family sued Ingram and New York Medical College, in Valhalla, N.Y., the medical school where DeMasi was being trained.
The jury found that the medical college was not liable.
Jurors were to return today to begin a hearing in which they will decide how much the family should receive in damages from Ingram. The damages hearing was expected to last up to a week.
Ingram sat expressionless as the jury announced its verdict. He and his lawyers left the courthouse without commenting. Karen Koskoff, the boy’s attorney, also declined comment.
DeMasi’s victim, now 22 and serving a prison sentence for assault, was expected to testify during the damages hearing.
During the three-week trial, Ingram testified that he had questioned DeMasi about whether he had ever molested a child, intended to molest a child or fantasized about a particular child. In each case, DeMasi said no.
Ingram also told jurors that he had consulted with five other psychiatrists and was confident that he had no obligation to report DeMasi’s revelation or otherwise force DeMasi out of the residency program.
Ingram said he thought the best thing he could do was to continue to counsel DeMasi.
“He was my patient. I was the only chance he had. I was the only chance society had. I was the only chance the kids had,” Ingram testified.
But jurors said Ingram knew that DeMasi was likely to cause harm to others if he was not controlled, and that Ingram had failed to exercise reasonable care. Jurors also found that the boy was a foreseeable victim of the harm that Ingram had failed to prevent.
DeMasi pleaded guilty to risk of injury to a minor in three cases and received a seven-year prison sentence in 1987.
He was released in 1992, but violated his probation and was returned to prison to serve the balance of his sentence. He was re-released in April, and since then, his whereabouts have been unknown.
In most cases, conversations between a doctor and patient are considered confidential. But court cases in the last 25 years have gradually established that psychiatrists have a parallel duty to protect third parties who may be threatened by patients, especially when specific individuals have been identified.
Dr. Howard Schwartz, director of the Institute of Living in Hartford, agreed that Ingram should be held liable, citing a statement DeMasi made during therapy, when he said that pedophilia should not be illegal.
“Having a patient showing no desire to move from a pedophilic to a more mainstream sexual interest would direct a prudent psychiatrist to the conclusion that this was a very high-risk situation,” Schwartz said.
“Dr. Ingram could have taken action which might have led to a change in specialty for Dr. DeMasi,” he said.
But Schwartz said therapists should not be required to reveal fantasies if they are not interpreted as being threatening.
“Fantasies alone do not indicate an intention to injure anybody,” he said. “There’s a big difference between a fantasy and intention to act.”
Dr. Walter Borden, a therapist and forensic psychiatrist, said the case could discourage troubled people from seeking therapy.
“If patients can’t talk to doctors about their fantasies, it’s going to destroy treatment,” Borden told The Hartford Courant.
“I see a lot of people who have committed crimes and are potentially dangerous. It’s difficult enough to get them to talk. This is not going to help matters.”
Bruce Young, an attorney for New York Medical College, said school officials feel vindicated by the jury’s finding that the college was not at fault. He said school officials believe that Ingram acted properly when he decided that the best thing to do was to continue to treat DeMasi.
“Empirical studies have shown where you don’t treat or where you’re compelled to reveal a confidence, it has an extremely chilling effect,” Young said.
“Those people who really should be in treatment, who really need treatment will just be flung to the four corners and will hide in the deep recesses where they can really do some damage.”