Emerich v. Philadelphia Center for Human Development, Inc. Case Brief

Summary of Emerich v. Philadelphia Center for Human Development, Inc. (1998) Pg. 519, 720 A.2d 1032 (Pa. 1998)

Parties: Appellant – Plaintiff – Emerich

Appellee – Defendant – Philadelphia HDI

Court: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, 1998

Facts: Joseph and his girlfriend, Hausler, were receiving treatment at Philadelphia HDI for mental illness. Scuderi was one of the treating therapists at the center. Joseph’s condition caused him to be violent at times, and in the past was physically and verbally abusive to Haulser, whom was living with Joseph. Haulser and Joseph broke up and she moved away. Joseph called up Scuderi and told him that he was going to kill Haulser. Scuderi set up an emergency meeting session with him to discuss this thought. During the session, Joseph expressed that he would kill Haulser if he saw her come back to get her clothes. Joseph left the center on condition that he would not harm Haulser. Later that morning, Haulser called Scuderi, and he told her not to go and get her clothes. Haulser ignored his advice and went to retrieve her clothes at Joseph’s place, and Joseph ended up fatally shooting Haulser.

Procedural Posture: TC – granted judgment to the Defendant on the grounds that PA had no law was presently existed requiring professionals to warn 3rd parties of dangers of their patients.

MC – affirmed TC decision and in addition that if a duty did exist, no cause of action because Haulser ignored Scuderi’s warning.

Issue: Does a health care professional owe a duty to warn a 3rd party of a patient’s threat of harm to that 3rd party?

Judgment: Affirmed lower courts’ decision, but added a new rule.

Holding: Held that a duty to warn only arises when the threat is made to a specifically identified or readily identifiable victim. In addition, medical personnel can go beyond the patient-doctor confidentiality agreement to warn because public safety outweighs confidentiality, and it is not considered a violation to the patient-doctor confidentiality agreement.

Relevant Rule: Special Circumstance for a Doctor to Warn 3rd Party

1. Patient had communicated specific or identifiable individual he/she intends to harm.

2. Threat of violent action is reasonably determinable by any medical person in the same field.

NOTE: It does not violate patient-doctor confidentiality agreement because public safety outweighs the confidentiality agreement.

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