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January 14, 1983

Duty to Warn Third Parties

Author Affiliations

Michael Reese Hospital Chicago

JAMA. 1983;249(2):191. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03330260015006

To the Editor.—  I am pleased to note the initiation by Bernard D. Hirsh, JD (1982;248:473), of a LAW AND MEDICINE feature and to comment on the first article of the series entitled "Duty to Warn Third Parties" by Almeta E. Cooper, JD (1982;248:431), which helped to translate the intricacies of the legal world into clinically applicable precepts regarding a widely misunderstood perceived duty imposed on physicians (especially psychiatrists) to warn the presumed potential victims of their patients' aggressions.The unreliability of predicting a patient's dangerousness is compounded by the unpredictability of the consequences of such warnings. Experience has demonstrated that most intended victims already were aware of the danger and were helpless to protect themselves.1 Falsepositive warnings could expose the therapist to legal action, should the "victim" change his life unnecessarily or become ill because of the warning. Furthermore, if the warned victim also proved to be dangerous,