De Facto Therapist-Patient Relationship Necessary for Medical Malpractice Claim May Have Existed When Psychologist Gave Employee Advice on Family Problems

Developments in Mental Health Law, January 2004 | Go to article overview
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De Facto Therapist-Patient Relationship Necessary for Medical Malpractice Claim May Have Existed When Psychologist Gave Employee Advice on Family Problems


An Indiana appeals court ruled a therapist-patient relationship may have existed between a psychologist and a woman who worked as an employee in the clinic of which the psychologist was half-owner. During her employment, the woman sought advice about problems she was having with her marriage and her children from the psychologist and from her co-workers. After a number of years at the clinic, the woman and the psychologist began a sexual relationship, which continued for approximately one year. At that time, both the employment and sexual relationships were ended. The woman and her husband sued the psychologist for malpractice, claiming in part that the psychologist had mishandled the transference phenomenon that had arisen. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit after determining that no therapist-patient relationship existed between the woman and the psychologist because the psychologist had merely counseled the woman as his employee and friend.

The Indiana Appeals Court ruled there was sufficient evidence a therapist-patient relationship may have existed to allow a jury to make this determination and reversed the dismissal. Under Indiana law, the court held, the key inquiry is whether the physician performed an affirmative act for a patient's benefit.

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