Brief Fact Summary.
Tatiana Tarasoff was killed by a psychiatric patient who had told his therapist he was going to kill her. Tarasoff’s parents (Plaintiff) sued the Regents of the University of California (Defendants), who employed the therapist, for negligence.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
When a therapist knows of a high likelihood of violence by their patient against an identifiable person, the therapist has a duty to warn the person.
Against this interest, however, we must weigh the public interest in safety from violent assault.View Full Point of Law
Prosenjit Poddar was a psychiatric patient at a UC Berkeley hospital, run by the Regents of the University of California (Defendant). He told his psychologist that he planned to kill Tatiana Tarasoff, daughter of the Tarasoffs (Plaintiff). The psychologist had the police briefly detain Poddar, but he was released. The psychologist’s boss told him not to do anything else, and no one warned Tatiana or Plaintiffs. Poddar killed Tatiana 2 months later.
Does a therapist have a duty to warn an identifiable person about their patient’s intention to kill that person?
Yes, the Court held that a therapist does have a duty to warn a person that their patient intends to kill them.
The Court acknowledges that typically people do not have a duty to warn. However, in this circumstance. a special relationship exists that creates such a duty. This relationship is that between the therapist and the patient. Therapists have affirmative duties to their patients that may extend to third parties.
In this case, a therapist therefore has the duty to warn a person of danger from their patient, using their own best judgement to determine when it may be necessary. Though Defendant raised the issue of confidentiality between patient and therapist, the Court said that there is no societal interest that would benefit from this type of information being concealed.
As to the campus police also named as Defendants, the Court held that there was no special relationship creating a duty.