Saturday, January 19, 2013

Provision in NY gun law seeks to expand duty created by Tarasoff

As reported in the Wall street Journal law blog, a provision in New York state's new gun-control law that requires mental-health professionals to report potentially dangerous patients is drawing concern from experts who fear it could discourage people from seeking treatment and treads on client confidentiality.

As you may remember, many jurisdictions have adopted the view that therapists have a duty to warn unsuspecting possible victims, at least as long as they are identifiable, by following the reasoning in the famous case Tarasoff v Regents of the University of California. Yet, the provision in the NY gun law would expand this duty tremendously.

According to the article, the measure requires physicians, psychologists, nurses or clinical social workers to alert local health officials if a patient "is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others." This is an extremely vague and broad duty and I think the criticism is well deserved.

Even the notion of a duty adopted in Tarasoff is controversial, which explains why it was not adopted everywhere. The duty proposed in the NY law is even broader. It is difficult to understand when the duty would start and it is not frivolous to argue that it could have a negative effect on the ability of therapists to do their job.

For more on the story go to the New York Times. USA Today has more on the story here.

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