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Statute Limits Mental Therapists Liability to Third Parties Injured by Clients
Description Utah high court upheld dismissal of case brought by survivors of woman murdered by schizophrenic ex-husband who had just been released by mental health care provider. Utah statute limits therapists' liability to cases of directly communicated threats.
Topic Torts
Key Words Negligence, Duty of Care, Statutory Limitation
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Kilgrow, a schizophrenic, had received treatment from Valley previously when the police took him there one day for bizarre behavior. A nurse talked to Kilgrow for half an hour, changed his prescription, and let him leave. He went to his ex-wife's house and killed her. He was found competent to stand trial and pleaded "guilty and mentally ill" to manslaughter. The parents of the murdered woman, now guardians of her children, sued Valley for negligence in their duty to protect her. Trial court dismissed case; parents appealed.
Decision Affirmed. Utah law states: "A therapist has no duty to warn or take precautions to provide protection from any violent behavior of his client or patient, except when that client or patient communicated to the therapist an actual threat of physical violence against a clearly identified or reasonably identifiable victim." Valley is relieved of liability because Kilgrow did not communicate a threat against his ex-wife. "We are troubled that [the statute] may inadvertently operate to create an incentive on the part of therapists to avoid diagnostically appropriate examinations that could reveal specific threats and result in a consequent duty to take preventive measures." A duty of care at common law may have been breached, but that issue is not reached because of the statutory standard protecting therapists.
Citation Wilson v. Valley Mental Health, Slip Copy (1998 WL 685269. Sup. Ct., Utah)
969 P.2d 416 (Sup. Ct., Utah, 1998)

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