September 16, 2013 Mr. Neimes
Supreme Court of California
Tarasoff vs. Regents of University of California
17 Cal. 3d 425
The Superior Court of Alameda County (California)
131 Cal.Rptr. 14, 551 P. 2d 334
Argued: July 1, 1976
Facts: Tatiana’s parent’s (Plaintiff’s and Appellants) represented by counsel (George Alexander McKray) filed actions of failure to detain a dangerous patient, to warn on a dangerous patient, abandonment of a dangerous patient and breach of primary duty to patient and public to (Defendants and Respondents) Dr. Lawrence Moore (psychologist), Dr. Harvey Powelson (Dr. Moore’s Superior) the police force, and The Regents of the University of California seeking $ 10,000 in punitive damages. On October 27, 1969, Prosenjit Poddar killed Tatiana Tarasoff, after a two month period of confiding his intentions to his psychologist (Dr. Moore). Upon Dr. Moore’s request he notified the police who detained Mr. Poddar but later he was released after appearing rational. Dr. Harvey Powelson (Dr. Moore’s Superior) directed that no further action should be taken to detain Mr. Poddar. No one warned plaintiffs of Tatiana’s danger. Concluding these facts set forth causes of action against neither therapists nor the policemen involved, nor against the Regents of the University of California as their employer. The Superior Court sustained defendant’s demurrers to plaintiff’s second amended complaints without amend.
Issue: Did defendants owe a duty to the victim thus making them liable for the harm that ensued?
Rule: The Court ruled liability is imposed only if the defendant bears some special relationship to the potiential victim thus stating, that the police did not have the requisite special relationship with Tatiana Tarasoff, sufficient to impose a duty to warn her of Mr. Poddar’s intention. They allowed the Plaintiff’s to amend their complaint so as to bring a valid cause of action against the therapists and The Regents of University of California for breach of duty to exercise reasonable care.
Analysis: Justice Tobriner: Legal duties are not discoverable facts of nature, but merely conclusory expressions that in cases of a particular type, liability should be imposed for damages done. As stated in Dillon vs. Legg (1968) 68 Cal. 2d 728, 734 [69 Cal. Rptr. 72, 441 P.2d 912, 29 A.L.R. 3d 1316]: “the assertion that liability must… be denied because defendant bears no ‘duty’ to plaintiff ‘begs the essential question. Whether the plaintiff’s interests are entitled to legal protection against the defendants conduct?…