In addition to filing court briefs, APA sent a letter in 2004 to the California Supreme Court supporting a psychologist's argument that he was not liable for failure to warn of his client's dangerousness. The therapist claimed he was immune because he heard that his client had threatened to kill the victim from a third party, not directly from the client. However, the courts still ruled against the psychologist.
Geno Colello, a client of California therapist David Goldstein, PhD, became depressed because his ex-girlfriend began dating another man, Keith Ewing.
In June 2001, Colello told his parents that he was considering hurting Ewing. Colello's father told Goldstein about his son's threats, and Goldstein arranged for Colello to be hospitalized for emergency psychiatric care. The resident psychiatrist discharged Colello a day later, despite Goldstein's protests. The following day, Colello murdered Ewing and then committed suicide.
Ewing's parents sued Goldstein for wrongful death, alleging Colello posed a danger to their son and that Goldstein had a duty to warn Ewing since Goldstein--through Collelo's father--knew of his patient's intentions.
In Goldstein v. Ewing, Goldstein argued that under section 43.92 of the state's civil code, he was immune from responsibility because the patient did not tell him directly about the threat. A Los Angeles trial court sided with Goldstein.
But an appeals court overturned the ruling, arguing that the trial court read the rule too strictly. According to the ruling, even if therapists learn via parents of a patient's plans to hurt someone, they have a duty to break confidentiality.
Goldstein asked the California Supreme Court to review the case and asked APA for help. APA submitted a letter to the state's top court supporting his request. However, the court rejected Goldstein's request, thereby leaving the appeals court ruling stand.
The ruling extends the definition of client communication to communications by a patient's parent.
"APA felt it was very important to get involved since this expanded statutory duty in California," says Lindsay Childress-Beatty, PhD, JD, APA's deputy general counsel. "As it now stands in California, psychologists may need to risk damaging the relationship of trust they have built with their patients based on a report from a patient's parent. A psychologist may have trouble evaluating such a parent's report for veracity."
Charles A. Faltz, PhD, director of professional affairs for the California Psychological Association (CPA), says it's always prudent to consider the credibility of reports from any source, but that the ruling "really leaves unclear how a psychologist should be interpreting a report from a source other than the patient." The CPA is working with a coalition of mental health providers to seek legislative action to restore the original intent of the rule, he says.