The Tarasoff case involved a murder victim, Tatiana Tarasoff, who was killed by an alleged acquaintance Prosejit Poddar. Poddar was a client of a psychologist employed by the University of California, and during a therapy session he revealed his intent to murder Tatiana Tarasoff. The psychologist assessed Poddar as a danger and informed the campus police, and was held briefly and released. Shortly after Poddar was released he indeed murdered Tatiana. The parents of Tatiana Tarasoff, plaintiffs, sued the school, campus police, therapists and anyone else who had contact. The argument was over whether the third party had the right to be warned and had the right to be protected. The defendants maintained they owed no duty of care to the victim, and were immune from suit.
The court stated that when a client presents a serious danger of violence to another there is an obligation, both legal and ethical, to use reasonable care to protect the intended victim against such danger. The therapist must take steps to determine or within their standard of profession determines the danger. This may call for the therapist to warn the intended victim or others likely to apprise the victim of the danger, to notify the police, or to take whatever other steps reasonably necessary under the circumstances.
This ruling imposes a liability on all human service professionals to protect a victim from violent acts. There is a duty to protect and a duty to warn the potential third party victims to violence. This may cause implications with the confidentiality of the client-helper relationship and may also cause violent clients to avoid treatment. This indeed will change the environment for human services and confidentiality; as now helpers may need to divulge confidential information to third parties in certain circumstances. The professional necessity of keeping a client’s information private is rooted in the ethical codes as well as in statutory law. As professionals in the human services realm we also have a right to withhold confidential information in a court of law.
To stay within the law and the code of ethics that govern us it is necessary to consider the situation from all points of view, develop a list of issues that represent multiple viewpoints, generate the possible decisions on whether to break client confidentiality, and what would the consequences of each decision. Each case in which the outcome of this case may implicate the duty to protect and warn, we must make sure we are addressing every avenue within a small amount of time in case of imminent danger that exists. This will be an adjustment with our client-helper relationships, and must be shared not only with each other but also shared with our clients.