TORTS – KRS 201A.400, mental health professional’s duty to warn victim of threats: Lois DeVasier (Administratrix of the estate of Kenneitha Crady) v. William James, M.D. (SC 2/19/2009)

Lois DeVasier (Administratrix of the estate of Kenneitha Crady) v. William James, M.D.
2007-SC-000130-DG 2/19/2009
2007-SC-000365-DG 2/19/2009

Opinion by Justice Venters; all sitting.

Kenneitha Crady was murdered by her boyfriend, Rene Crissell, shortly after he had been seen by Dr. James. Crady’s estate brought suit against Dr. James alleging he breached the duty to warn Crady imposed by KRS 202A.400. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Dr. James. The Court of Appeals affirmed, interpreting the statute to require that the threat triggering the duty to report be made directly to the mental health professional, not through an intervening agent, such as a nurse. Since there was no evidence that Cissell had directly expressed a threat to Dr. James, the Court of Appeals held that Dr. James was entitled a directed verdict.

The Supreme Court, affirmed but on different grounds. The Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals construed the word “communicated” as used in the statute too narrowly and ruled that the statute includes threats communicated by a patient to the mental health professional indirectly through agents who have a duty to relay the patient’s information. The Court concluded that even though Dr. James knew of previous acts of violence by Cissell towards Crady, there was no evidence that Cissell communicated an actual threat to inflict harm upon Crady by physical violence. The Court rejected the estate’s argument that the information communicated to Dr. James demonstrated that Cissell himself constituted a “threat” to Crady that would trigger the statutory duty to warn. The Court noted that the legislature, by the language of the statute, showed they intended that the patient communicate a threat towards an identifiable person, not that they simply are a threat.

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