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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.
Plaintiff Peggy McIntosh, as administratrix ad prosequendum of the estate of Kimbery A. McIntosh, filed a wrongful death action against defendant psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Milano, contending that defendant had a duty to warn plaintiff, decedent, or appropriate authorities that defendant's patient posed a physical threat to decedent. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment that sought dismissal of the action on the ground that defendant owed no such duty.
Did the defendant psychiatrist have a duty to warn plaintiff, decedent, or appropriate authorities that defendant's patient posed a physical threat to decedent?
The court denied defendant's motion for summary judgment. After defendant determined, or should have determined, that his patient presented a present or possible danger to decedent, defendant had the duty to take whatever steps were reasonably necessary to protect decedent. The relationship giving rise to that duty was found either in the psychiatrist-patient relationship or more broadly in defendant's obligation to protect the welfare of the community. Considerations of confidentiality had no over-riding influence because there was no professional prohibition against disclosure where such disclosure was necessary to protect against imminent danger.