Tarasoff Rule

The Tarasoff Rule, also known as Tarasoff duty or Tarasoff’s law, is a legal principle that requires mental health professionals to fulfill their duty of care by warning potential victims or taking appropriate measures to protect them from threats made by a patient.


The Tarasoff Rule originated from a landmark case in California, known as Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, which involved the tragic murder of Tatiana Tarasoff in 1969. Prosenjit Poddar, a university student who had been seeing a campus therapist, had made threats about killing Tatiana. The therapist informed the campus police but did not warn Tatiana or her family. Tragically, Poddar followed through with his threats and murdered Tatiana.

Principles of the Tarasoff Rule

The Tarasoff Rule establishes the following principles:

  1. Duty to Warn: Mental health professionals have a duty to warn potential victims if a patient poses a threat to their safety. This warning should be issued to both the potential victims and appropriate authorities to ensure proper protection.
  2. Duty to Protect: If the mental health professional determines that warning the potential victim is not sufficient, they have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect the potential victim from harm. This could involve notifying law enforcement, initiating involuntary commitment, or seeking other appropriate interventions.

Application of the Tarasoff Rule

The Tarasoff Rule applies to licensed mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and counselors, who are treating patients where there is a foreseeable risk of harm to others. It is crucial for these professionals to assess and determine the level of threat accurately and take necessary actions to fulfill their duty of care.

Scope and Criticisms

The Tarasoff Rule has been adopted in various forms or by judicial decisions in many jurisdictions within the United States. However, its implementation and scope may vary depending on state laws. Critics of the rule argue that it may interfere with the therapeutic relationship and compromise patient confidentiality.