Tarasoff and the dangerous driver: a look at the driving cases.
R. W. Pettis,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law
20(4): 427-37, 1992.
In three recent cases, hereinafter referred to as the driving cases, the courts have taken up the issue
of whether a psychotherapist should be held liable for negligent diagnosis and treatment and failure
to warn third parties of a patient's potential danger to others in the operation of an automobile. These
cases will be discussed as (1) an extension of the Tarasoff decision, which established
psychotherapists' duty to protect third parties from patients' violent acts, and (2) what some
commentators regard as a move toward holding the mental health professions to a standard of strict
liability. How far have the courts in these cases extended the Tarasoff duty to protect and is the
specter of strict liability real or imagined? This review finds the court adhering to a professional
negligence standard as altered by the Tarasoff case in which the court applied the Restatement of
Torts (Second) section 315 and held that the psychotherapist-patient relationship is a special
relationship requiring a duty to protect or warn. And while a negligence standard ostensibly applies,
the conclusions reached in these cases reveal an undeniable trend toward results one might expect
to accrue under a strict liability standard.