Tarasoff v. The Regents of the University of California

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Tarasoff v. The Regents of the University of California

Tarasoff v. The Regents of the University of California (1976) Case Summary

by Thomas L. Libby

On July 1, 1976, in a highly unusual action, the California Supreme Court reheard Tarasoff v. The Regents of the University of California (13 Cal. 3d 177 (1974)). In the resulting new ruling, the court expanded its landmark decision from two years prior to hold that psychotherapists are obligated to protect potential victims from threats made by their patients. The case spawned a spate of diverse “Tarasoff laws” in states across the country.

At the center of the controversy was Prosenjit Poddar, a UC Berkeley grad student who began stalking a colleague named Tatiana Tarasoff. Poddar sought mental help through the university, and his therapist reported him to the campus police after he made threats against Tarasoff. Poddar promised to keep his distance and the police released him, but two months later Poddar stabbed Tarasoff to death.

Tarasoff’s parents sued the school psychologist and the campus police for failing to warn them that their daughter was in danger. This led to the 1974 Tarasoff I decision, which held that therapists have a “duty to warn.” When the state Supreme Court reheard the case in 1976, it increased their professional responsibility to a “duty to protect” through its Tarasoff II ruling (17 Cal. 3d 425 (1976)).

Because of the unpredictability of violence, the California Legislature enacted Section 43.92 of the Civil Code, which narrowed therapists’ liability. But six years ago the Court of Appeal once again broadened a clinician’s obligation with its decision in Ewing v. Goldstein (120 Cal. App. 4th 807 (2004)).

As for Poddar, he was convicted and served four years in prison before returning to his native India. He was last reported to be happily married.

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