Lawsuit accuses Santa Rosa oncologist of affair with woman under his care

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An oncologist in the Sutter Health network is being sued by a Santa Rosa woman who claims he had an emotionally and physically abusive relationship with her while she was under his medical care.

The 20-page lawsuit, filed Thursday in Sonoma County Superior Court, accuses Dr. Peter Brett, who is part of Sutter Medical Group of the Redwoods, alleges he used his authority as a physician to manipulate the woman, Sandi Gaytan, into a “co-dependent and sexual relationship,” taking advantage of Gaytan at a time when she was isolated and in poor physical and mental health.

“During the course of treatment … Brett used his powers and abilities as a physician and surgeon, and his knowledge and background to engage in sexual contact and sexual touching with Plaintiff while knowing that she would be vulnerable to this type of sexual touching,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit accuses Brett of medical negligence, infliction of emotional distress; breach of fiduciary duty and violation of state laws that prohibit doctors from having sex with patients.

It also names Sutter Medical Group of the Redwoods as a defendant, alleging the organization and some of its employees were negligent and knew or should have known about the inappropriate relationship, which lasted nearly a decade, according to the complaint.

Brett, who works at a medical office building in northwest Santa Rosa, could not be reached for comment over two days and calls to his office were referred to Sutter Health’s media department.

An attorney with the law firm representing Brett said the allegations were “false and misleading” and that the oncology specialist plans to defend himself “vigorously.”

Brett and Gaytan met in the fall of 2008, in a creative writing class at Santa Rosa Junior College; Gaytan was 24 at the time and Brett, now 59, was married, according to the lawsuit.

Brett and Gaytan became friends, according to the complaint, and in late 2008, Gaytan told Brett she was leaving Santa Rosa to take a job as a nanny in Tiburon, and that she needed to quit smoking.

Brett “suggested that she take Wellbutrin, an anti-depressant medication that, in a low dose, was used to help smokers quit,” the lawsuit states. He prescribed the medication for her but did not discuss any possible side effects, according to the suit.

“Within a week, I was losing my mind,” Gaytan said during an interview this week.

She said she was unable to control her temper and started being cruel to people, including friends.

Brett visited her frequently in Tiburon and they would often consume alcohol, even though she was taking Wellbutrin, which can have harmful effects when combined with alcohol. Gaytan became increasingly dependent on Brett, the complaint states.

“He persuaded (her) to let him treat her for all of her medical issues, visited her wherever she moved to, and began paying her rent in increasing amounts,” the lawsuit states.

The two started having sex in September 2009, about a year after they met and while Gaytan was living in Corte Madera, according to the suit.

At one point, Brett rented a home for them to share and paid the rent and utilities, the suit alleges.

The doctor “would spend nights with his wife and them come to his ‘home’ with (Gaytan) in the mornings,” the complaint states. Brett continued to serve as her physician and paid her rent even after the relationship ended in the fall of 2017, according to the suit.

The complaint includes a long list of allegations accusing Brett of “negligent and careless treatment,” including: failing to obtain an appropriate medical history of Gaytan; failing to properly examine and treat her; misdiagnosing Gaytan’s condition; prescribing inappropriate medications; failing to order any required blood tests; and failing to adequately document clinical interactions with Gaytan.

“Such actions and omissions exist wholly and separately from the inappropriate acts, sexual conduct, or intentional torts alleged in other parts of this complaint,” the lawsuit states.

Gaytan, who now lives in Sonoma County, is seeking unspecified damages for past and future medical expenses and other costs related to physical, mental and emotional pain, suffering and distress.

Except in cases involving a spouse or an equivalent domestic relationship, California law governing physicians, psychotherapists and alcohol and drug abuse counselors makes sexual relationships with patients illegal.

Meg Walker, a Sutter Health spokeswoman, said in an email Friday that the health care provider had “just become aware of the lawsuit … We are currently reviewing the case.”

Walker said she notified the medical group leadership of The Press Democrat’s request for comment from Brett and the medical group.

Kevin Kelly, an attorney with a Tiburon-based firm representing Brett, said in an email Friday that his firm is limited in what it can say about the complaint because of federal patient-physician privacy rules.

Kelly said Gaytan has not provided his firm with a release permitting them to comment.

John Winer, Gaytan’s attorney, said no such release is needed for Brett to speak on his own behalf.

“Once she sues him, he’s got the right to protect himself,” Winer said.

Kelly said the firm would give a “general denial of each and every factual allegation in the complaint.” He called the suit “legally defective” and signaled he would ask a judge to dismiss it.

“Our client is an oncologist with an exemplary and unblemished nearly 30-year record of serving the residents of Sonoma County with respect to their critical health care needs,” Kelly wrote in the email. “Our client’s practice focuses solely on treating individuals suffering from cancer and cancer-related issues. Notably, there is not a single allegation in this complaint that this plaintiff was ever treated for any cancer-related malady that would fall within the nature of our client’s practice.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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