Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PhD)


College of Psychology

First Advisor

David Shapiro

Second Advisor

Thomas Kennedy

Third Advisor

Kathy Cerminara


case law, duty to protect, duty to warn, judicial decision making


Duty to warn is an important staple of psychologists’ ethics training. It is also a widely misunderstood and problematic law that does not necessarily capture the intricacies of working with high-risk or potentially violent clients in outpatient settings. While inpatient settings allow for some control over one’s clients, outpatient settings increase the difficulty in performing risk assessments in duty to warn situations, as well as with managing clients who are not within one’s custody. While researchers have long identified issues related to psychologists’ understanding of the duty to warn, none have empirically explored whether the trends seen in individual cases apply across the spectrum duty to warn cases. This project utilized content analysis to code seventeen state supreme court and state appellate court duty to warn cases. The project used a most similar case design with basic inclusionary criteria of 1). State has an established duty to warn law, 2). The case occurred after the law was created, and 3). The case named an outpatient mental health professional. The results of this study identified several commonly occurring themes, of which negligence and foreseeability were the most common and had the highest impact on outcome.

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