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Tarasoff Case Overview
Essentially, in 1974, the California courts ruled that a mental health professional has a duty to warn individuals who may be threatened by bodily harm by their patient.
However, in 1976, the California Supreme Court ruled that a health professional may satisfy its duty not only by communicating with the intended victim but also by taking any reasonable step in the circumstances like contacting the police or others.
Further to the Tarasoff v. Regents of University of California case, not only the professional in the mental health segment has a duty to his or her patient but also to third party individuals threatened by their patient.
Tarasoff vs Regents Facts
In 1967, Prosenjit Poddar was an Indian student admitted to the University of California in Berkeley.
In 1968, Poddar met Tatiana Tarasoff and started dating one another.
Sometime later, Tarasoff advises Poddar that she was having relationships with other men.
The news about Tarasoff being involved with other men significantly disrupted Poddar leaving him depressed and dysfunctional.
In 1969, Poddar met with Lawrence Moore, a psychologist at Cowell Memorial Hospital.
During his treatments, however, Poddar informs his psychologist that at some point he had the intention to kill Tarasoff.
Alarmed by this news, Moore informs the campus police that Poddar can be quite dangerous as he suffers from severe paranoid schizophrenia.
Following Moore’s notification to the police, Poddar was detained for a short period of time but ultimately released.
On October 27, 1969, Poddar finally carried out his plans by killing Tarasoff.
Poddar was then criminally charged and found guilty of second-degree murder in the first instance.
However, his criminal conviction was overturned due to technicalities about how the jury did not receive proper instructions.
In the end, Poddar was released from courts provided that he returned to India.
Before the civil courts, Tatiana Tarasoff’s parents filed a civil lawsuit against the psychologists at the Cowell Memorial Hospital of the University of California indicating that they had a duty to warn Tarasoff or her parents when Poddar had revealed his threats.
The court dismissed the action sustaining a demurrer but the plaintiffs sought a review of the matter.
Tarasoff v Regents Case Rule of Law
In the Poddar Tarasoff case, an important rule of law has been established.
In essence, a person (or defendant) owes a duty of care to those exposed to harm by his or her conduct when the conduct is unreasonably risky or dangerous.
However, when a defendant is required to control the behavior and conduct of another person to prevent harm to another, the law imposes a liability on the defendant to the extent the defendant has a special relationship with the defendant or intended victim.
In other words, the law will not impose liability on a defendant for the harm caused by another without a special relationship between the defendant and the dangerous person or the victim.
In the Tarasoff vs. Regents of the University of California, Tarasoff’s parents acting as the plaintiffs asserted that there was a failure on the four psychologists had a duty to warn Tatiana or her parents of Poddar’s expressed threats to kill Tarasoff.
This case required that the courts find a balance between the need to protect privileged communications made by a patient and the protection of society against possible threats.
The court found that a duty of care may arise if there is a special relationship between the actor and a third person which imposes the actor to control the third person’s conduct.
The hospital’s obligation was to take reasonable care and measures in the circumstances.
A therapist cannot predict with perfect accuracy how much a patient may present a serious threat to society.
However, the therapist should exercise a reasonable degree of care, skill, and knowledge under the circumstances.
The courts also concluded that the police did not have any liability with regards to the matter as they were public employees who cannot be held liable for injuries caused in the course of the exercise of their duties.
Duty of Care To Third Parties
The California Supreme Court, in the Tarasoff vs Regents case, found that a mental health professional not only has a duty to his or her patient but also third persons who are specifically threatened by their patient.
The court’s rationale with respect to the duty of care was that there must be a balancing act between privileged information and public safety.
The courts concluded that information shared with a health professional must be kept confidential and privileged, however, the patient-psychotherapist communications may be revealed if the disclosure is essential to prevent dangers to another.
Following the Tarasoff decision, the “duty to warn” or “duty to protect” has been adopted into law in many states.
As such, the duty to warn or protect has become a codified and statutory obligation in many states.
Tarasoff v. Regents of The University of California Takeaways
So what are our takeaways relating to the Tarasoff case?
Here is the reference to the California Supreme Court decision: Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California (17 Cal.3d 425 )
Let’s look at a summary of our findings.
Tarasoff v Regents
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