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Tarasoff v. Regents of University of California

Supreme Court of California

July 1, 1976

S.F. No. 23042

Opinion

 [*430]   [**339]   [***19]  On October 27, 1969, Prosenjit Poddar killed Tatiana Tarasoff. 1 Plaintiffs, Tatiana's parents, allege that two months earlier Poddar confided his intention to kill Tatiana to Dr. Lawrence Moore, a psychologist employed by the Cowell Memorial Hospital at the University of California at Berkeley. They allege that on Moore's request, the campus police briefly detained Poddar, but released him when he appeared  [**340]   [***20]  rational. They further claim that Dr. Harvey Powelson, Moore's superior, then directed that no further action be taken to detain Poddar. No one warned [****3]  plaintiffs of Tatiana's peril.

Concluding that these facts set forth causes of action against neither therapists and policemen involved, nor against the Regents of the University of California as their employer, the superior court sustained defendants' demurrers to plaintiffs' second amended complaints without leave to amend. 2 This appeal ensued.

 [****4]  [*431]   Plaintiffs' complaints predicate liability on two grounds: defendants' failure to warn plaintiffs of the impending danger and their failure to bring about Poddar's confinement pursuant to the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act ( Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5000 ff.) Defendants, in turn, assert that they owed no duty of reasonable care to Tatiana and that they are immune from suit under the California Tort Claims Act of 1963 ( Gov. Code, § 810 ff.).

We shall explain that defendant therapists cannot escape liability merely because Tatiana herself was not their patient. CA(1)(1) ] When a therapist determines, or pursuant to the standards of his profession should determine, that his patient presents a serious danger of violence to another, he incurs an obligation to use reasonable care to protect the intended victim against such danger. The discharge of this duty may require the therapist to take one or more of various steps, depending upon the nature of the case. Thus it may call for him to warn the intended victim or others likely to apprise the victim of the danger, to notify the police, or to take whatever other steps are reasonably necessary under the circumstances.

In the case at [****5]  bar, plaintiffs admit that defendant therapists notified the police, but argue on appeal that the therapists failed to exercise reasonable care to protect Tatiana in that they did not confine Poddar and did not warn Tatiana or others likely to apprise her of the danger. Defendant therapists, however, are public employees. Consequently, to the extent that plaintiffs seek to predicate liability upon the therapists' failure to bring about Poddar's confinement, the therapists can claim immunity under Government Code section 856. No specific statutory provision, however, shields them from liability based upon failure to warn Tatiana or others likely to apprise her of the danger, and Government Code section 820.2 does not protect such failure as an exercise of discretion.

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17 Cal. 3d 425 *; 551 P.2d 334 **; 131 Cal. Rptr. 14 ***; 1976 Cal. LEXIS 297 ****; 83 A.L.R.3d 1166

VITALY TARASOFF et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. THE REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA et al., Defendants and Respondents

Prior History:  [****1]  Superior Court of Alameda County, No. 405694, Robert L. Bostick, Judge.

Disposition: The judgment of the superior court in favor of defendants Atkinson, Beall, Brownrigg, Hallernan, and Teel is affirmed. The judgment of the superior court in favor of defendants Gold, Moore, Powelson, Yandell, and the Regents of the University of California is reversed, and the cause remanded for further proceedings consistent with the views expressed herein.

CORE TERMS

patient, therapist, psychiatrist, confinement, predict, disclosure, immunity, violence, warn, confidentiality, cause of action, complaints, plaintiffs', psychiatric, designated, Psychiatry, violent, failure to warn, special relationship, circumstances, mentally ill, disclose, professional person, communications, confidence, effective treatment, reasonable care, duty to warn, foreseeable, profession

Evidence, Privileges, Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege, General Overview, Torts, Elements, Duty, Proof, Custom, Professional Customs, Affirmative Duty to Act, Types of Special Relationships, Healthcare Law, Actions Against Facilities, Facility Liability, Hospitals, Public Health & Welfare Law, Mental Health Services, Commitment, Discharge & Release of Adults, Healthcare Litigation, Standards of Care, Reasonable Care, Exceptions, Medical Treatment, Patient Confidentiality, Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege, Scope, Elements, Doctor-Patient Privilege, Public Entity Liability, Immunities