Emerich v. Phila. Ctr. for Human Dev.

554 Pa. 209, 720 A.2d 1032 (1998)

 

RULE:

Under common law, as a general rule, there is no duty to control the conduct of a third-party to protect another from harm. However, a judicial exception to the general rule has been recognized where a defendant stands in some special relationship with either the person whose conduct needs to be controlled or in a relationship with the intended victim of the conduct, which gives to the intended victim a right to protection.

FACTS:

Healthcare providers and physicians treated a patient with homicidal ideations towards the deceased. The patient informed the healthcare providers and physicians that he was going to kill the deceased. Thus, they conducted a therapy session and the patient later stated that he would not hurt the deceased. The patient later killed the deceased. A wrongful death action was filed against the healthcare providers and physicians, arguing that they had a duty to warn the deceased of the patient's threat. The trial court granted the healthcare providers and physicians judgment on the pleadings, and the ruling was challenged.

ISSUE:

Does a mental health professional have the duty to warn a third party of a patient's threat to harm the third party?

ANSWER:

Yes

CONCLUSION:

The court held that because the healthcare providers and physicians had a special relationship with the patient, they had a duty to inform the deceased about the patient's threat, after it was specifically made. The court determined that the healthcare providers and physicians were in the best position available to inform the deceased, and that the duty to warn would not violate the psychotherapist-patient privilege. The court reversed the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings.

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