Duty to Warn or Protect

  • The "Tarasoff rule" varies widely across states and is subject to case law interpretation.
  • In Massachusetts social workers are mandated to warn a victim or the police if "the patient has communicated to the licensed mental health professional an explicit threat to kill or inflict serious bodily injury upon a reasonably identified victim or victims and the patient has the apparent intent and ability to carry out the threat, or (b) the patient has a history of physical violence which is known to the licensed mental health professional and the licensed mental health professional has a reasonable basis to believe that there is a clear and present danger that the patient will attempt to kill or inflict serious bodily injury against a reasonably identified victim or victims" (GLM chap.123; section 36B).
  • This situation is more likely to arise if your client is the abuser than if your client is the survivor, but survivors may be desperate enough to threaten to kill or hurt.
  • If possible in this situation, consult a lawyer.
  • You will need to inform the police of the name of the person making the threat of harm, the name of the intended victim, the extent of the threat, reasons for believing the threat will be carried out, how you learned of the threat, and what steps, if any, have been taken to ensure the safety of the intended victim.
  • It is also important to address any concerns of retaliation by the intended victim towards the person making the threat, as well as any concerns for your own safety.
  • As with the other mandated situations, it is important to let your client know of your action. If you believe that this will place you at risk of harm, you need to take prior steps for your own safety.

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