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Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California

Citation. 551 P.2d 334 (Cal.1976)
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Brief Fact Summary.

A student was killed by another student, who had previously confided his intent to do so in a psychologist.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A psychologist who determines that a patient poses a threat incurs an obligation to protect the foreseeable victims of the patient.


A student in the UC school system, Poddar, was romantically rejected by another student, Tarasoff, causing Poddar psychological issues.  He saw a campus psychologist, and confessed his intent to kill Tarasoff.  The psychologist had the campus police detain Poddar, but he was released soon after, and the psychologists’ superiors directed that no further action be taken with regard to Poddar.  Two months later Poddar stabbed Tarasoff to death.  Poddar was deported to India, and Tarasoff’s parents brought suit.


Does a psychologist have a duty of care to protect others from the actions of their patients?


Yes, if a psychologist determines that a patient poses a threat, they incur a duty of care to protect the victim(s).


Justice Clark, J.

Justice Clark dissents on the grounds that the duty of care standard should not be construed to make an individual responsible for someone else’s conduct.  He opines that the opinion of the majority is against public policy because it would deter those who need help from seeking it, and deter those who do seek treatment from telling the honest truth.  He further argues that this would also undermine the treatment itself by eroding confidence in the confidentiality of the sessions.  He concludes by arguing that the standard articulated by the majority will unduly restrict the liberties of those who seek treatment by increasing the probability of involuntary confinement to avoid liability under the majority’s standard.


The Court reasons that the duty of care extends into the professional realm.  They hold that this duty extends liability ‘for injury occasioned to another by his want of ordinary care and skill’ which was met by the facts at hand because of the nature of the relationship between Poddar and the psychologist.  They deem this a special relationship, sufficient to invoke the psychologists’ duty to Tarasoff, and attach liability for his failure to take action.

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