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A Better Partnership
September 18, 2015

MSC to determine whether a mental health professional has a duty to prevent false accusations of childhood sexual abuse by parents

In Roberts v. Salmi, No. 150919, the Michigan Supreme Court has granted leave to appeal on the issue of whether a mental health professional has a duty of care to third parties who might foreseeably be harmed by the mental health professional’s use of techniques that cause a patient to have false memories of sexual abuse.
The plaintiffs, Lale and Joan Roberts, were parents of “K,” a minor.  Lale and Joan brought K to see a therapist, Salmi, who performed Recovered Memory Therapy.  This led to K accusing Lale of child molestation.  An investigation by the Michigan State Police and the Department of Human Services ensued; however, neither agency found any credible evidence of abuse.  The plaintiffs filed suit against Salmi and asserted that Salmi owed them a duty of care to prevent false accusations of sexual abuse from being disseminated to the community.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs and concluded that the relationship between a mental health professional and his or her patient’s parents is sufficiently close and the foreseeability of the harm is sufficiently strong to weigh in favor of a limited duty of care.  The court further held that mental health professionals must not only consider the patient’s welfare, but must also consider the possibility that his or her decision to treat the patient may result in a false memory that directly harms the patient’s parents.  The Court of Appeals limited its holding to only those treatment techniques that actually cause the patient to have a false memory of childhood sexual abuse.  The Michigan Supreme Court has granted Salmi leave to appeal.

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