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Law School Case Brief

Calderon v. Glick - 131 Cal. App. 4th 224


Where there is no privity of contract between the parties, a checklist of factors is employed in assessing legal duty. The determination whether in a specific case a defendant will be held liable to a third person not in privity is a matter of policy and involves the balancing of various factors, among which are the extent to which the transaction was intended to affect the plaintiff, the foreseeability of harm to him, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant's conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant's conduct, and the policy of preventing future harm. 


Plaintiffs, a former girlfriend of a deranged and suicidal gunman and members of her family, sued defendant psychotherapists, alleging causes of action for wrongful death and personal injuries based on failure to warn and professional malpractice. The gunman had been a patient of the psychotherapists. The gunman, who believed the former girlfriend had deliberately infected him with HTLV (human T-cell lymphotropic virus), shot and killed three members of the former girlfriend's family and wounded two more. The Superior Court of Ventura County, California, granted the psychotherapists' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed.


Were there causes of action based on a failure to warn theory?




The court held that the failure to warn causes of action were precluded as a matter of law, pursuant to Cal. Civ. Code § 43.92. The gunman did not communicate to the psychotherapists any threats of physical violence against the former girlfriend or her family. Every time the gunman was asked if he intended to harm someone, he always said that he did not. The court also held that the psychotherapists did not owe a duty of care to plaintiffs. Although plaintiffs unquestionably suffered injury, the connection between the psychotherapists' conduct and the injury was not sufficiently close to impose on the psychotherapists a duty of care to plaintiffs. The gunman inflicted the injuries' because of his mental illness and, in particular, his delusional belief that the former girlfriend had infected him with HTLV on purpose. The psychotherapists were in no way responsible for the gunman's mental illness or delusional belief, which existed before he entered therapy.

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