Doctors Liability for Negligence to Warn About Patients Homicidal Diagnosis

In Tilley v. Schulte (1999) 70 Cal. App. 4th 79 [82 Cal. Rptr. 2d 497], Officer Tilley was responding to a call of "shots being fired." He thought he heard the sound of fireworks coming from the home of Mora and drove up Mora's driveway to inquire about the shots. Tilley and Mora had had friendly encounters in the past. Tilley did not observe Mora holding a shotgun to his side, and Mora shot Tilley several times, severely injuring him. Mora had been under psychiatric care for the previous six months and had been diagnosed as homicidal. He told his psychiatrist, defendant Dr. Schulte, that he had homicidal feelings towards his supervisor at the California Youth Authority. Dr. Schulte did not ask Mora if he had a gun or whether he had other means to carry out his feelings. Dr. Schulte did not warn Mora's supervisors or advise law enforcement authorities. Officer Tilley sued Dr. Schulte for negligence. Division Six of this court affirmed the granting of summary adjudication of issues in favor of Dr. Schulte. The court first concluded that the firefighter's rule barred recovery. Specifically, as to the application of section 1714.9, the court noted that the alleged negligence of Dr. Schulte (the failure to warn) occurred not after the officer arrived at the scene, but before. (Tilley v. Schulte, supra, 70 Cal. App. 4th at p. 85.) With respect to the elements of a prima facie negligence claim, the court found the connection between Mora's homicidal feelings toward his supervisor and his attack many months later against Officer Tilley to be attenuated, especially considering the friendly relationship the two previously enjoyed. An assault on Tilley could not be seen as a foreseeable result of the general homicidal feelings that Mora had earlier expressed. Nevertheless, the opinion reaffirmed the principle announced in Lipson, thus suggesting that if affirmative malfeasance had occurred after the officer had arrived at the scene, the result would have been different: "One who negligently or intentionally misrepresents the nature of a hazard to public safety officers may be held liable in damages for injuries sustained as a result of such misrepresentation." (Ibid.)