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Friday, April 1, 2011

Therapist/Patient Duty to Warn in California!

Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California:
Supreme Court of California
17 Cal.3d 425 (1976)
Issue: Whether, when a therapist knows or has reason to know that the patient would harm others, the therapist has a duty to warn.
Rule: General Principle: "Defendant owes a duty of care to all persons who are foreseeably endangered by his conduct with respect to all risks which make the conduct unreasonably dangerous.
-When the avoidance of the foreseeable harm requires the defendant to control the conduct of another, a special relationship must exist (to the dangerous person or the victim)
-Common Law: One person owed no duty to control the conduct of another, nor to warn those endangered by such conduct. An exception has been carved out where the defendant has a special relationship
Application: This court departs from the balancing of a number of considerations (listed pg. 158, top), to just foreseeability
-The relationship between therapist and patient satisfies the 'special relationship' requirement.
-Plaintiff's pleadings assert no special relationship between defendant and Tatiana, but they do establish between Poddar and defendant
-California decisions that recognize this duty have involved cases in which the defendant stood in a special relationship with both victim and injurer
-Other jurisdictions hold that a single relationship is sufficient. Thus, the court adopts this view.
-Defendants contend that imposition of a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect third persons is unworkable because therapists cannot accurately predict whether or not a patient will resort to violence
-APA, in support of this (amicus), cites articles stating that it is not reliable, and therapists are more often wrong than right in predicting such.
-Within the broad ranger of reasonable practice and treatment in which professional opinion and judgment may differ, the therapist is free to exercise his or her own best judgment without liability
-Proof aided by hindsight, is insufficient
-In this case, the pleadings do not raise any questions as to the failure of defendant to predict that Poddar presented a serious danger of violence. Defendant predicted that he would kill.
-Amicus (apa?) contends that even when a therapist determines that the patient poses a serious danger of violence to others, the therapist should be free of any liability
-If a therapist does determine, or under applicable professional standards reasonably should have determined, that a patient poses a serious danger of violence to others, he bears a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect the foreseeable victim
-Professional inaccuracy in predicting violence cannot negate the therapist's duty to protect the threatened victim
-The risk of unnecessary warnings is an acceptable price to pay for the lives of possible victims.
-Defendant argues that warning victims is a breach of trust between the patient
-The public interest in safety from violent assault outweighs such considerations
-Evidence Code Section 1024: Legislature created a specific and limited exception to the psychotherapist-patient privilege:
-If he/she has reasonable cause to believe the patient is in such mental or emotional condition as to be dangerous to himself or to the person or property of another, and that disclosure of the communication is necessary to prevent the threatened danger
-Therapist's obligations to his patient require that he not disclose a confidence unless such disclosure is necessary to avert danger to others. Must do so discreetly
Conclusion: Plaintiffs can amend the complaint

-Plaintiffs: Parents of Tatiana Tarasoff, who was killed by Poddar, patient of Dr. Moore
-Defendant: University of CA, Dr. Moore?

-Dr. Moore, a psychologist employed with the University of California, was treating Poddar
-Plaintiffs allege that Poddar told Dr. Moore of his intention to kill Tarasoff
-At Dr. Moore's request, Poddar was then briefly confined by campus police
-Was released because he appeared rationale
-After Poddar's release, chief of psychiatry, Moore's superior, ordered that Poddar not be further detained

Trial Court:
-Judge dismissed the suit that was brought against several therapists and others

-Plaintiff seeks to amend complaint to allege that Tatiana's death proximately resulted from defendants' negligent failure to warn Tatiana or others likely to apprise her of her danger
-Contend that this amendment establish a cause of action
-Defendants contend that in the circumstances of the present case they owed no duty of care to Tatiana or her parents

-Rowland v. Christian: Whenever one person is by circumstances placed in such a position with regard to another… that if he did not use ordinary care and skill in his own conduct… he would cause danger of injury to the person or property of the other, a duty arises to use ordinary care and skill to avoid such danger.

-Concur in the result, only because the complaint alleges that defendant did in fact predict that Poddar would kill
-Dissent because Majority's rule holds that a therapist may be held liable for failing to predict his patient's tendency to violence if other practitioners, pursuant to the "standards of the profession" would have done so.


  1. So glad I'm not in law.
    i'd never remember all this stuff.

  2. Interesting stuff, great read.

  3. Wow. This could actually help a lot of people in law school. followed.