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The University of Washington School of Law Center for Law, Science and Global Health was asked to “convene a study on the Washington State Supreme Court decision Volk v. DeMeerleer, 386 P.3d 254 (Wash. 2016).” The Volk case elaborated on the duty of mental health providers to protect foreseeable victims of a dangerous patient. The goal of the study was to evaluate whether or not this case “substantially changed the law [in Washington] on the duty of care owed to third parties by mental health providers and whether it has had an impact on access to mental health services in the state.” See Appendix A, Volk Appropriation, §(25)(a). This portion of our report details the results of the nationwide comprehensive survey of law and how Washington’s current law compares to other jurisdictions.

The legislative appropriation for a comprehensive review of “duty to warn” and “duty to protect” law required three major subsets of legal research. First, it required an in-depth 50- state survey of legislative and case law related to the duty to warn and duty to protect. In the interest of being complete, we also included the District of Columbia. See Appendix A, Volk Appropriation, §(25(a)(i). Second, it included a detailed historical review and analysis of “duty to protect” lawsuits brought in Washington against outpatient mental health care providers since the decision in Petersen v. State, 671 P.2d 230 (Wash. 1983), the preeminent case in Washington prior to Volk. See Appendix A, Volk Appropriation, §(25(a)(iii). Finally, it included an analysis of how the Volk decision changed the law in Washington and how “Washington state’s law compares to other states.” See Appendix A, Volk Appropriation, §(25(a)(i).

NOTE: All cases and statutes referred to in this text are available in the Appendix I, the complete summary of the fifty states and District of Columbia, and in the Supplementary Materials (each state’s statute and cases) available on the submitted USB drives or archived with the House Judiciary Committee.

Note: Commissioned by the Washington State Legislature, House Judiciary Committee, Dec. 1, 2017. Patricia C. Kuszler and Terry J. Price, faculty supervisors. Research team: Tanya E. Karwaki, Jaclyn Greenberg, Annemarie Weiss, Gavin Keene.

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University of Washington School of Law




duty to warn


Law and Psychology

<i>Volk v. DeMeerleer</i> Study