Washington Law Review


Transference, or the idealization of therapists, is a phenomenon that is foreseeable in every relationship between a therapist and a patient, and makes patients uniquely vulnerable to sexual exploitation by therapists. Transference has been recognized as a basis for finding therapists directly liable for harm resulting from sexual relations with patients. However, limitations on damages directly available from therapists lead patients to seek redress from therapists' employers under theories of employer liability. Washington courts generally deny victimized patients relief from the employers of sexually exploitative therapists. This Comment argues that Washington courts should impose employer liability when therapists sexually exploit their patients, due to the foreseeability of transference. Employer liability is consistent with three existing theories of Washington agency law: (1)the exploitation of transference arises out of pursuit of the employer's business, subjecting employers to respondeat superior liability; (2) patients qualify for a special relationship with their therapist's employer, which imposes a direct duty on the employer to protect those patients; and (3) the risk of a therapist's exploitation of transference is sufficiently foreseeable to subject employers to liability on the basis of negligent supervision.

First Page