Current analysis of the Tarasoff duty: an evolution towards the limitation of the duty to protect

Behav Sci Law. 2001;19(3):325-43. doi: 10.1002/bsl.444.


In 1976, the Tarasoff case established a new legal duty to protect third parties from a psychiatric patient's foreseeable violence. After the Tarasoff case, courts expanded the scope and role of a clinician's duty to protect, sometimes in novel ways. Later interpretations of Tarasoff began to limit significantly the situations in which a duty to protect would attach. Recent Tarasoff-type cases in which courts have rejected the clinician's duty to warn suggest that Tarasoff is declining in significance. The advent of state statutes that codify the establishment and discharge of Tarasoff duty have contributed to a further limitation of the duty to protect. Lastly, when faced with the management of dangerous patients, we advocate for a thorough, well documented assessment of risk of violence as the best means for addressing concern about potential legal liability.

Publication types

  • Legal Case

MeSH terms

  • California
  • Duty to Warn / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Psychiatry
  • United States
  • Violence*