Dunkle v. Food Serv. E.

582 A.2d 1342

 

RULE:

A psychologist (or psychiatrist) owes no duty to warn or otherwise protect a non-patient where the patient has not threatened to inflict harm on a particular individual.

FACTS:

After her boyfriend strangled the decedent, plaintiff administrator brought an action against appellants, grocery store and food service organization, for negligence. Appellants then brought a complaint seeking to join appellees, psychologist, counselor, and doctor, as defendants. The boyfriend had been receiving psychiatric care and counseling from appellees for a schizophreniform disorder. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellees, psychologist, counselor, and doctor, and dismissed appellants' complaint to join appellees in a negligent death action brought against appellants because appellees owed no legal duty to protect the decedent from their patient's hostility.

ISSUE:

Did the trial court properly determine that the defendants psychologist, counselor, and doctor owed no legal duty to protect the plaintiffs' decedent from their patient's hostility?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The court affirmed the trial court's summary judgment in favor of appellees, psychologist, counselor, and doctor, thus dismissing appellants', grocery store and food service organization, complaint to join appellees to a negligent death action brought against them. The court held that appellees had no legal duty to warn or otherwise protect the decedent where their patient did not specifically threaten to harm her. According to the court, appellees did not share a "special relationship" with the decedent that justified the imposition of a duty to warn, and the patient did not communicate any inclination to harm the decedent. Moreover, the fact that the decedent lived with the patient did not lead to the inference that she was the most like target of his violent tendencies.

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