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Law School Case Brief

Estates of Morgan v. Fairfield Family Counseling Ctr. - 673 N.E.2d 1311

Rule:

There exists a special relationship between a psychotherapist and his or her outpatient sufficient to establish a duty on the psychotherapist to protect and/or control the outpatient’s violent propensities.

Facts:

On the evening of July 25, 1991, Matt Morgan was playing cards with his parents, Jerry and Marlene Morgan, and sister, Marla Morgan. Matt excused himself from the table, went upstairs, and obtained a gun. He came back downstairs and shot and killed his parents and seriously injured his sister. During the previous year, Matt had been examined by or received counseling from various mental health professionals who were either employed by or served as consultants to appellee, the Fairfield Family Counseling Center ("FFCC"). This case involves the liability of those mental health professionals and FFCC for the injuries and deaths resulting from the tragic events of July 25, 1991. The trial court granted summary judgment for appellees; the court of appeals reversed but only as to one doctor. An appeal followed.

Issue:

Does the relationship between a psychotherapist and the outpatient constitute a “special relation” that imposes a duty upon the psychotherapist to protect others against and/or control the patient’s violent conduct?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Ohio concluded that the relationship between the psychotherapist and the patient in the outpatient setting constitutes a special relation justifying the imposition of a duty upon the psychotherapist to protect against and/or control the patient's violent propensities. The outpatient setting embodies sufficient elements of control to warrant the imposition of such a duty, and such a duty would serve the public's interest in protection from a violently-inclined mental patient in a manner that is consistent with Ohio law. On the other hand, the imposition of such a duty would not impose undue burdens upon the therapist or result in overcommitment, nor would it significantly affect the confidential character of psychotherapeutic communications.

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