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A duty to warn is a concept that arises in the law of torts in a number of circumstances, indicating that a party will be held liable for injuries caused to another, where the party had the opportunity to warn the other of a hazard and failed to do so.

Clinical psychology[]

In clinical psychological practice in the United States, duty to warn applies to cases where the client/patient is dangerous to others and has identified targeted individual(s). In these situations, the clinician must breach confidentiality to warn the identified victim/third party about imminent danger.[1] Additionally, the clinician can warn the local police authorities and inform them about what may eventually happen. Duty to warn originated from two rulings (1974 and 1976) of the California Supreme Court in the case of Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California.[2] The legal case was brought by the Tarasoff family after their daughter, Tatiana Tarasoff, was murdered by Prosenjit Poddar who was under psychological care in the university counseling center.

The application of duty to warn laws place clinicians in the uneasy situation of breaching another law, that of confidentiality. However, if the clinician has reasonable suspicion of what may happen, he/she is protected from prosecution.

Other cases[]

The duty to warn also arises in products liability cases, where manufacturers are held strictly liable for injuries caused by hazards inherent in the use of their products. For consumer protection they have to pay attention to providing warning labels etc

See also[]


  1. Corey, Corey & Callahan (2007). Issues and Ethics in the Helping Professions, Brooks Cole Publishing.
  2. Simon, R.I. (2001). Psychiatry and the Law, American Psychiatric Publishing.