New Jersey's 11th Legislative District

Senator Jennifer Beck

Senator Jennifer Beck

Beck Legislation Expands “Duty to Warn” Law to Help Practitioners Prevent Acts of Violence by Patients

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Senator Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) has introduced legislation that would expand the state’s “duty to warn” statutes to help prevent more types of violent acts that practitioners believe a patient is likely to commit, including mass casualty attacks such as shootings and bombings.

Sen. Jennifer Beck’s legislation would expand the state’s “duty to warn” law to help prevent more types of violent acts. (Flickr)

“New Jersey’s ‘duty to warn’ law protects doctors, psychiatrists and other professionals from civil liability when they take steps to prevent a patient from committing an imminent act of violence that they believe is likely to occur,” said Beck. “The problem is that our current law is too narrow and only covers instances where the potential victim is known.”

The state’s existing “duty to warn” law cover instances when a person who is licensed by the State to practice psychology, psychiatry, medicine, nursing, clinical social work, or marriage counseling receives communication from a patient of a threat of imminent, serious physical violence against himself or a readily identifiable person, or the practitioner believes the patient intends to carry out such an act.

In such an instance, the practitioner receives immunity from civil liability if such an act occurs if they have taken one or more of the following steps: initiated or arranged for certain medical treatment for the patient; advised local law enforcement of the threat and the identity of the intended victim; warned the intended victim of the threat, or the parent or guardian in the case of a minor; warned the parent or guardian if the patient is a minor and threatened to commit suicide or bodily injury upon himself.

Beck’s legislation, S-2614, expands the “duty to warn” to cover specific violent acts that have been communicated to the practitioner by the patient, regardless of whether a specific person has been identified as a potential victim.

“If a patient tells their psychiatrist that they intend to shoot up a school or bomb a public event, our laws shouldn’t discourage or penalize the psychiatrist from taking steps to prevent that from happening,” added Beck. “That’s the loophole that this legislation will fix.”

Additionally, the legislation adds advising a local, State, or federal law enforcement authority of the patient’s actual threat and the details of the specific violent act to the actions that a practitioner can take to qualify for immunity.

“We know that many who go on to commit horrific attacks have had previous contact with medical professionals or counselors for treatment or therapy,” said Beck. “This legislation will increase the likelihood that we receive the warnings we need from those professionals to keep people safe.”

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