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Peck v. Counseling Service of Addison County, Inc.

Vermont Supreme Court
499 A.2d 422 (1985)


Facts

Twenty-nine-year-old John Peck told his therapist he “wanted to get back by at his father” after an argument and “could burn down his barn.” With a history of impulsive assaultive behavior, alcoholism, epilepsy, and possibly an associated brain disorder that increasingly impaired his judgment, Peck was in voluntary outpatient therapy with the Counseling Service of Addison County, Inc. (defendant). But after discussing the consequences, Peck promised his therapist he would not burn down the barn, so the therapist did not warn Peck’s parents (plaintiffs). The therapist did not have Peck’s most recent medical history, and the Counseling Service had no policy for reporting and managing patient threats against others. After Peck burned the barn to the ground, Peck’s parents sued Counseling Service of Addison County, Inc. (defendant) for negligence based on the failure to warn. In a battle of experts, the Counseling Service countered that the therapist relied in good faith on Peck’s promise and could not disclose the threat anyway because of physician-patient privilege. The trial court found no liability in negligence, and Peck’s parents appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Hill, J.)

Dissent (Billings, C.J.)

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