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The Provider's Duty to Protect Patients and Third Parties

Journal of Health & Life Sciences Law

  • June 26, 2019

Matt Wolfe co-authored an analysis in the Journal of Health & Life Sciences Law on the legal duty providers face to protect patients and third parties. 

"The 'duty to protect' doctrine creates an obligation to providers, under principles of tort law, to take steps to protect patients, third parties, and even the public at large when they are at a foreseeable risk of harm due to statements made or actions taken by a provider’s patient," Matt and co-author Anna Whites wrote. "This duty was first recognized by the California Supreme Court in Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California and has now been recognized by several states through case law and in statute." 

"A provider’s 'duty to protect' can create tensions with a provider’s privacy obligations and clinical responsibilities to treat the patient," they continued. "The need to protect the privacy of an individual often clashes with the need to protect the safety of another individual (and sometimes the same individual). Although the duty to protect is a doctrine governed by a large body of state laws and regulations, codes of professional conduct for various licensed professionals, and evolving case law, the animating principles of the duty to protect lie squarely in this tension between a provider’s commitment to privacy and protection."

They then provided a practical framework on how providers and their counsel can evaluate "the murky and fact-intensive scenarios where a duty to protect needs to be considered."

American Health Lawyers Association members can read the full article here. The Journal of Health & Life Sciences Law is the flagship journal of the AHLA and is published three times a year.