Generally, there is no duty to control the conduct of another in order to protect a third person from harm. A recognized exception to this general rule arises in the situation where there is a special relationship between two persons which gives the one a definite control over the actions of the other. An exception also arises where a special relationship exists which imposes a duty upon one to control the actions of another, or, where a special relationship gives a third person a right to protection.
Property owners brought suit against the mental health agency to recover damages for a property loss, which occurred when their son set fire to their barn. The property owners claimed that the damage resulted from the mental health agency's negligence in warning them of their son's desire to cause the damage. On appeal, the mental health agency argued that the relationship between a community mental health agency and a voluntary outpatient does not give rise to a duty to protect third persons because of the absence of control over the outpatient.
Was the mental health agency liable for negligence to the property owners?
The court held that there was no reason why a similar duty to warn should not exist when the disease of the patient is a mental illness that poses an analogous risk of harm to others. The court held that a mental health professional who knows or, based upon the standards of the mental health profession, should know that his or her patient poses a serious risk of danger to an identifiable victim has a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect him or her from that danger.