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July 23, 1982

Duty to Warn Third Parties

Author Affiliations

From the Office of the General Counsel, American Medical Association.

JAMA. 1982;248(4):431-432. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330040025024

In 1976, the California Supreme Court held in Tarasoff v Regents of the University of California, 551 P2d 334 (Cal 1976), that when a therapist determines or should determine that his patient presents a serious danger of violence to another, he has an obligation to use reasonable care to protect the intended victim against such danger. Furthermore, the court held that this duty could be discharged in one or more of the following ways: (1) by warning the victim or others likely to apprise the victim of danger; (2) by notifying the police; or (3) by taking whatever other steps are reasonably necessary under the circumstances.

This duty imposed by Tarasoff has posed a dilemma to those in the medical community, particularly psychiatrists and psychotherapists. The dilemma arises because complete candor and trust are considered essential elements of the therapist-patient relationship. Disclosure of the patient's confidential communications to a third