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A treating therapist's duty to a nonpatient parent exists but that duty is limited to an affirmative act: the affirmative act of recklessly giving rise to false memories or false allegations of childhood sexual abuse by that parent. Similarly, the Supreme Court of Utah concludes that a treating therapist owes a duty to refrain from affirmatively causing the nonpatient parent severe emotional distress by recklessly giving rise to false memories or false allegations of childhood sexual abuse by that parent.
In March 2011, Thomas Mower's now ex-wife, Lidia Mower, began taking their four-year-old daughter, T.M., to The Children's Center for therapy. The Children's Center provided services to T.M. through Nancy Baird. During Ms. Baird's treatment of T.M., she allegedly engaged in practices that were both contrary to commonly-accepted treatment protocol and expressly rejected by the profession. As a result of Ms. Baird's treatment, false allegations of sexual abuse were levied against Mr. Mower. Mr. Mower sued Ms. Baird and The Children's Center (collectively, the defendants) for the harm he suffered as a result of T.M.'s treatment. The defendants moved to dismiss these claims under rule 12(b)(6) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. The district court granted the defendants' motion on the grounds that therapists don't have "a duty of care to potential sexual abusers when treating the alleged victim."
Did a treating therapist working with a minor child owe a traditional duty of reasonable care to a nonpatient parent to refrain from giving rise to false memories or false allegations of sexual abuse by that parent?
The court held that a therapist owed a duty to a minor patient's parents to refrain from affirmative acts that recklessly violated the standard of care in a manner that gave rise to false memories or false allegations of sexual abuse committed by the plaintiff nonpatient parent. The court further held that if the therapist breached that duty in a way that caused a parent to suffer physical injury, property damage, or severe emotional distress that manifested itself through severe mental or physical symptoms, the therapist could be liable for those damages. Therefore, the trial court erred by dismissing the father's action under Utah R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) on the ground that the therapist did not owe a duty to the father.