California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

507. Duty to Warn Patient

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant] was negligent because [he/she] did not warn [name of patient] that [his/her] condition presented a danger to others.

[Name of defendant] was negligent if [name of plaintiff] proves that [he/she] did not take reasonable steps to warn [name of patient] that [his/her] condition presented a danger to others.

New September 2003

Directions for Use

This instruction is intended to cover situations where a patient’s condition foreseeably causes harm to a third party.

Sources and Authority

  • “To avoid liability in this case, [defendants] should have taken whatever steps were reasonable under the circumstances to protect [plaintiff] and other foreseeable victims of [patient]’s dangerous conduct. What is a reasonable step to take will vary from case to case.” (Myers v. Quesenberry (1983) 144 Cal.App.3d 888, 894 [193 Cal.Rptr. 733], internal citations omitted.) “Our holding does not require the physician to do anything other than what he was already obligated to do for the protection of the patient. Thus, even though it may appear that the scope of liability has been expanded to include injuries to foreseeable victims other than the patient, the standard of medical care to the patient remains the same.” (Ibid.)
  • “When the avoidance of foreseeable harm to a third person requires a defendant to control the conduct of a person with whom the defendant has a special relationship (such as physician and patient) or to warn the person of the risks involved in certain conduct, the defendant’s duty extends to a third person with whom the defendant does not have a special relationship.” (Reisner v. Regents of Univ. of California (1995) 31 Cal.App.4th 1195, 1198—1199 [37 Cal.Rptr.2d 518] [infected sex partner could maintain action against his partner’s physicians for failing to tell the young woman that she had received HIV-tainted blood].)
  • Proof of causation is still required: “[Defendants] will be liable only if [plaintiff] is able to prove their failure to warn [patient] not to drive in an irrational and uncontrolled diabetic condition was a substantial factor in causing his injuries.” (Myers, supra, 144 Cal.App.3d at p. 895.)
  • This obligation to third parties appears to be limited to healthcare professionals and does not apply to ordinary citizens. (Koepke v. Loo (1993) 18 Cal.App.4th 1444, 1456—1457 [23 Cal.Rptr.2d 34].)

Secondary Sources

3 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 31, Liability of Physicians and Other Medical Practitioners, § 31.16 (Matthew Bender)

36 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 415, Physicians: Medical Malpractice, § 415.13 (Matthew Bender)

17 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 175, Physicians and Surgeons, §§ 175.22, 175.23 (Matthew Bender)