Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession(4)13 Oct 96


Quick Summary: A healthcare professional working with a mental-health patient must warn a potential victim only if the patient has communicated an explicit threat of imminent serious physical harm or death to a clearly identified or identifiable victim or victims, and the patient has the apparent intent and ability to carry out the threatCOURT OF APPEALS OF ARIZONA, 1995.

   As the landmark case of Tarasoff vs. Regents of University of California (California Supreme Court, 1976) has gained acceptance from U.S. courts, healthcare professionals have been expected to take steps to protect persons about whom threats of violence are voiced by patients in counseling or treatment or in custody because of danger to self or others.

   At the same time, healthcare professionals can still be sued by patients for overstepping the recognized bounds of medical confidentiality.

   The Court of Appeals of Arizona recently threw out a lawsuit filed by a patient’s wife, who was stabbed at home by the patient after his release from a structured residence serving individuals with psychiatric problems.

   The court ruled she could not sue the residence or it staff. The patient had told the staff he was having "stupid thoughts" of hurting someone or of committing a crime. The court ruled that vague, rambling, ill-defined general statements do not require caregivers to notify any specific person of a danger from the patient. Little vs. All Phoenix South Community Mental Health Center, Inc., 919 P. 2d 1368 (Ariz. App., 1995).

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