> At 07:53 PM 5/21/99 -0700, you wrote:
> >About a year and a half ago, one of a college freshman in UC Berkeley saw
> >a little girl murdered in a public rest room by his friend and he did not
> >say a word to the police.
> There may be a self-incrimination exemption for this witnessing friend, if
> he is potentially considered an accomplice to the murder. He has the right
> to remain silent, etc. The circumstances make a big difference.
> That mid- 1980's Cal. Atty General Opinion on an engineer's "duty to warn"
> considered many appellate court decisions on that subject, including
> Tarasoff vs. UC, which was another connection of UC Berkeley to a murder.
> As I recall from reading the appellate decision some years ago, a UC
> psychiatrist was treating a "client" patient, and the patient revealed in
> the course of treatment that he had intentions to murder a certain person.
> The UC doctor kept that remark to himself, following his understanding of
> doctor/patient confidentiality ethics. The patient then committed the
> murder, and the question of duty to warn came up in a liability lawsuit.
> Ultimately the duty to warn was determined to override the ethic on
> confidentiality, as to the particular circumstances at issue.
> That's my point: Circumstances make a huge difference, even after a single
> specific occurrence when assigning non-criminal blame. Here, we are to
> answer a question that aims at very generalized future occurrences, with
> intent to unearth among engineers a policy that would control everyone's
> conduct then by criminalizing the "wrong" choice. Maybe not so easy as it
> might seem.
> Charles O. Greenlaw, SE Sacramento CA
While the court in Tarasoff spent a lot of time discussing "special
relationships" in order to find a duty, the AG's opinion may provide a better
insight to the underlying rational, especially as applied to engineers.
The rule seems to be that if a professional, with special knowledge,
education and training, observes a condition, hazardous to life and limb, that
would not be apparent to those without his or her special knowledge,
education and training, then the professional has a duty to warn of the
hazard. The rational seems to be that unless the professional warns of the
hazard, there would be no way to avoid the harm and thus, as a matter of
public policy, it is necessary to place the duty to warn on such
professionals, rather than accept the harm to innocent victims.