Tarasoff Revisited: Nebraska Court Rejects Obligation Of Psychiatrist After Patient Murders Girlfriend

There’s a tragic case out of Omaha that has resulted in a remarkable decision over tort liability for psychiatrists. The case involves a patient, Mikael Loyd, who was admitted to Hope Recovery Center later he informed authorities that he wanted their help in killing his mother. Psychiatrist Jeana Benton determined that he wasn’t a danger at the hospital and he was released. Then he murdered his girlfriend, Melissa Rodriguez, who broke up with him during his hospital period.  Her buddy, Angela Rodriguez and Adan Rodriguez, resisted Lasting Hope and Benton’s employer, University of Nebraska Medical Center Physicians, however the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of their action Because of a lack of any legal duty to warn or protect the girlfriend.
Melissa’s body has been discovered the day following the launch of Loyd, who’d returned to Lasting Hope and was arrested there.
When she stated that she wanted to date other men, Podder went to counselling at the University Health Service and is treated by psychologist, and Dr. Lawrence Moore. After he told Moore that he wished to get a gun and kill Tarasoff, Moore sent a letter to campus authorities who interview Podder and decided that he wasn’t a risk. Podder subsequently went ahead and murdered Tarasoff.
Justice Mathew O. Tobriner held that”… the private character of patient-psychotherapist communications has to yield to the extent that disclosure is important to avert danger to others. Because of this, the hospital has been held accountable for the criminal acts of a third party — a thing that usually (although not always) cuts off proximate causation. It also rejects strong arguments made by physicians that such accountability could create a chilling affect on counselling. A large number of individuals frequently express their anger by focusing on people and stating an intent to”kill that guy.” In the vast majority of these scenarios, the open disclosure has been addressed and defused. But in the event the patient understands that the physician might have to notify police, these feelings are less inclined to be expressed and dealt with.
We have discussed decisions stretching Tarasoff. But some countries have passed legislation restricting its effect. In Nebraska, the state supreme court previously dominated in Munstermann v. Alegent Health, 271 Neb. 834, 716 N.W.2d 73 (2006) that:

[A] psychologist is responsible for failing to warn of and protect from a patient’s threatened violent behavior, or neglecting to call and warn of and protect from a patient’s violent behavior, when the patient has communicated to the psychiatrist a significant threat of physical violence against himself, herself, along with even a reasonably identifiable victim or victims. The duty to warn of or to take reasonable precautions to give protection against violent behavior shall arise only under those limited situations… and shall be discharged by the psychiatrist if reasonable efforts are made to convey the danger to the victim or victims and also to a law enforcement agency.

It afterwards added the caution “`[A] duty to protect and warn arises only in the event the data communicated to the psychiatrist directs the psychiatrist to feel that his or her patient poses a significant threat of grave bodily harm .'”
In cases like this, the court ruled that that burden wasn’t satisfied.  The court differentiated between the duty to the mother Instead of the girlfriend:

Here, it is uncontroverted that Loyd never really communicated to Benton that he intended to damage Melissa. We noticed in Rodriguez I that if the Special Administrators’ assert were supported by facts that Loyd had communicated to Benton a significant threat of physical violence against Melissa, those facts might give rise to an obligation to warn. Nevertheless, the undisputed facts today in the record don’t support that allegation.
Really, the sole reasonably identifiable victim whom Loyd conveyed an intent to harm was his mommy. During Benton’s tests, Loyd specifically voiced a goal to kill his mother in retaliation for his dad’s death. According to such verbal expressions of threats, Benton ordered Lasting Hope staff to call Loyd’s mother to frighten her. And by the time Benton had arranged Loyd’s discharge, she understood that OPD was conscious of Loyd’s threats of violence against his mother, because Lasting Hope staff had discussed the threats with OPD officers, who cautioned Loyd’s mother.
As the Special Administrators now concede, Loyd never voiced to Benton or anyone else at Lasting Hope that he intended to damage Melissa. He identified Melissa by name or even by description in connection with his expression homicidal ideation. And to this extent that the arrest warrant recognized Melissa as the casualty of Loyd’s past misconduct, it did not amount to an actual communication by Loyd, nor did it forecast that he would commit physical violence against Melissa in the future. Because of this, no duty to warn Melissa has been triggered below Munstermann.

Note, in spite of all the statutory standard, the Court appears to validate the duty to warn the mother and Dr. Benton obviously understood that duty in ordering the employees to reach out to the mother.
What’s also notable is the discussion of the duty to safeguard as opposed to the duty to warn. It was rejected:

As examined above, the very first duty implicated by Munstermann is the psychiatrist’s duty to warn. But by its plain language, the Munstermann principle applies equally to the psychiatrist’s duty to safeguard.
In each clause of the Munstermann principle that limits psychiatrists’ duty to warn, there’s an equal limitation on their duty to safeguard. …To the extent that any duty to protect and warn does appear, it”will likely be discharged by the psychiatrist if reasonable efforts are made to convey the danger to the victim or victims and also to some law enforcement agency.”
…The Legislature explicitly enacted those constraints in response to Tarasoff as well as together, fashioned a nation policy”to preempt a grand ruling [in Nebraska] that a therapist can be held responsible for the mere failure to forecast potential violence by her or his patient.” As failure to warn claims are premised in part on psychiatrists’ obligation to forecast their patients’ prospective violence, so too are failure to shield asserts. Thus, we see the Munstermann principle as an accurate determination of state policy with respect to the duty of psychiatrists to frighten –and shield –third parties out of their patients’ abusive behavior.

There’s also an interesting concurring opinion by Justice Jonathan Papik about the broader scope given the waiver by the Court. Papik noted that in Munsterman the Court acknowledged that the statutes governing the responsibilities of accredited mental health practitioners and psychologists did not explicitly use to psychiatrists and, therefore, a psychiatrist’s duty was”commanded by common law.” Papik questions that basis for then holding that while those statutes “`may not be literally applicable, [they are] obviously indicative of legislatively approved public policy.'” Id. 
The instance is Rodriguez v. Lasting Hope Recovery Ctr. Of Catholic Health Initiatives, Neb., No. S-19-1116, 3/5/21 .

Like this:Like Loading…