Hedlund v. Superior Court of Orange County

669 P.2d 41
Brief Filed: 10/83
Court: Supreme Court of the State of California
Year of Decision: 1983

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 112KB)

Issue

Whether a "foreseeable" bystander in a close relationship to the victim of an assault by a patient can bring a cause of action against the patient's psychotherapist for emotional injury resulting from a failure to warn

Index Topic

Duty to Warn/Protect

Facts

A psychologist and a psychological assistant were seeing a man and woman in treatment. The man threatened to harm the woman and the therapists warned her of the threats. Ultimately, the man ran the woman and her son off the road in her car and then shot her, leading to the loss of a leg. The woman sued the therapists, claiming that they did not warn her of the danger to herself or her son. The Supreme Court of California ultimately held that the therapists owed a duty not only to the woman, but also to her son because the injury to the woman's son was foreseeable because children are not usually far from their parents.

APA's Position

Believing this extension of the Tarasoff duty (Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, 17 Cal. 3d 425, 551 P.2d 334 [1976]) to be harmful to psychologists, APA submitted a brief urging the court to rehear the case arguing that the court's decision: (1) extended its prior decision unwisely thereby subjecting therapists to broader liability than have courts in other jurisdictions; (2) left open the limits of the decision and the extent of therapist's potential liability; and (3) ignored relevant policy considerations that suggest a need for reasonable limits on therapists' duty of due care and existing research demonstrating the difficulty of predicting dangerousness.

Results

The California Supreme Court denied the motion for rehearing.