Tarasoff v. Regents of University of California

Quick Facts

–          Tarasoff (Plaintiff, decedent’s mother) v. Regents of University of California (Therapists).

–          Unique situation, because it’s a third party that was effected with no connection to the defendant.

–          There was a breach of duty to exercise reasonable care on behalf of the school and doctors.

Procedural History

– Lower court stated that there was no duty owed to the decedent because it breached the doctor-patient relationship.


–          Plaintiff was a student at the school

–          Defendants were therapists, upon which the therapists learned that that Poddar (“Killer”) said in one of his sessions that he was going to kill Tatiana Tarasoff (decedent) upon which the school detained the killer, and shortly thereafter released him.

–          D never informed the decedent about the killer, who eventually brutally murdered the decedent and action was brought against the D for wrongful death.

–          P claims that the D owed a duty to inform the descendant of the killer.

–          D claims:

  • Therapists cannot accurately predict what patients say, will come to fruition:
    • Court does not hold a therapist to a perfect performance, but one that a therapist “with reasonable skill, knowledge and care ordinarily possess and exercised member of that (professional specialty) under similar circumstances.
    • However, in the present case, it does not render that the doctors had to predict anything, conversely they knew that the killer had wanted to kill the descendant, but negligently failed to warn her.
  • Even when the therapist can predict, the D contends that they owe no duty to the potential victim to warn them.
    • Court says that once a doctor finds out of such a circumstance, they do owe a duty to inform the potential victim (foreseeable victim that is).
  • Free and open communication is essential to a therapist/patient relationship – breach of trust that patients need.
    • Court says – that in regards to public policy, they weigh the necessity to prevent someone being killed, is greater for society than to preserve a doctor/patient relationship


Does the relationship between psychiatrist and patient support the duty on the part of the therapist to exercise reasonable care to protect others against dangers imposed by others?




The relationship between a therapist/patient supports the duty on the part of the therapist to exercise reasonable care against the dangers posed by the patient’s illness.

Court reasoning

–          Such a relationship between doctor and patient establishes a duty to inform a third party about the prospects of being killed.

–          Usually it’s a duty owed when the doctor knows both of the people, i.e. a special relationship between the patient and the person the patient was talking about.

–          The risk of unnecessary warnings may be given, is a reasonable price to pay for lives of possible victims that may be saved.

–          The containment of such risks goes against the greater public good.

–          The exercise of reasonable care  to protect an INTENDED victim requires the therapist to warn the endangered part or those who can reasonably be expected to notify him, we see no societal interest that would protect against such information.

Comments are closed.