Is Wisconsin a Tarasoff State? What Does This Mean?
Yes, the state of Wisconsin follows the result in Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California,
17 Cal. 3d 425 (Cal. 1976), a California Supreme Court decision which held that mental health professionals’ have a duty to exercise reasonable care in the treatment of their patients by warning others of threats of harm by the patient. See
Schuster v. Altenberg, 144 Wis. 2d 223 (1988). In Schuster, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the duty to warn extends to whatever other steps are reasonably necessary under the circumstances, including contacting the police, recommending or requiring hospitalization, or notifying a family member or friend who can help ensure safety. The case law in Wisconsin rejects the idea that the victim must be foreseeable; a psychotherapist has a duty to warn even if the actual victim was not foreseeable. Also, Wisconsin does not create a distinction between a generalized statement of dangerous intent and a particularized statement specifying the patient’s intended victims.
The ruling in Schuster was supported by later Wisconsin decisions in
Steinberg v. Jensen, 194 Wis. 2d 439 (1995), and
Wisconsin v. Agacki, 226 Wis. 2d 349 (1999). These decisions held that there is no privilege between psychotherapists and patients regarding communications relevant to the discovery of the physical, mental or emotional condition of the patient in a proceeding in which that condition is an element of the patient’s claim or defense. Thus, the principle that the confidentiality of patient communications gives way in certain instances is embodied even in the rules of evidence in court proceedings.