Psychiatrists' duty to warn of a dangerous patient: A survey of the law


  • Paul D. Kamenar J.D.

    Corresponding author
    1. Director of Litigation for the Washington Legal Foundation
    • Washington Legal Foundation, 1705 N. Street, N. W., Washington, DC 20036
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The leading court cases that decide under what circumstances a duty to warn a third person about the potential dangerousness of a patient will be imposed on a psychiatrist or therapist, and in what manner the discharge of that duty will be judged to be sufficient is discussed and analyzed. A survey indicates that courts regard the duty to warn to be only part of a larger duty to control a dangerous patient. Thus, even if there is no duty to warn, courts may nevertheless impose liability for injuries to third persons predicated on acts of nonfeasance or misfeasance in diagnosing, treating, or controlling a dangerous patient. Lastly, the impact that various patient confidentiality laws have on the duty to warn are discussed.