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Would boundary violation and sexual misconduct by a psychiatrist with a patient be malpractice and a breach of fiduciary duty?

Seattle, WA |

The psychiatrist began sharing personal information to a vulnerable patient. The psychiatrist and patient stopped therapy for the purpose of engaging in a personal then sexual relationship. A few weeks elapsed before the 'outside' relationship began.
Would this patient still be considered a patient, despite the brief interval? Does the physician's responsibility to the patient continue during that relationship? What is the statue of limitations for breach of fiduciary duty in WA state?

Attorney Answers 4


  1. Various licensing boards such as the APA and AMA would most likely hold this was a violation of their codes of ethics regarding dating a current or former patient. Most licensing boards prescribe a waiting period before a practitioner should date a former patient, such as 2 years after the termination of the professional relationship.

    The standard of care depends on the specific community and must be addressed by a psychiatrist. It is most likely a breach of the fiduciary duty because it can be argued that the psychiatrist may be taking advantage of the vulnerability of the former patient because the psychiatrist had a disparate professional relationship with the former patient.


  2. (1) Beware of advice from out of state attorneys. (2) I used to do litigation for the WA Medical Disciplinary Board. (3) The basic rule is no sexual contact with a patient. (4) The Board would probably find the conduct you describe as a violation of the ethical code for physicians. (5) The patient should contact a PI attorney to evaluate the situation.

    This AVVO Answer is provided for general educational purposes only. By using or participating in this site you agree and understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the attorney responding, and no attorney-client confidentiality. The law changes frequently, and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The information provided in this Answer is general in nature and may not apply to the factual circumstances described in your question. The applicable law and the appropriate answer may be different in the State or States where the relevant facts occurred. For a definitive answer you should seek legal advice from an attorney who (1) is licensed to practice in the state which has jurisdiction; (2) has experience in the area of law you are asking about, and (3) has been retained as your attorney for representation or consultation. Your question and the attorney’s answer may be used for promotional or educational purposes


  3. Consult with a Washington state attorney. Your case has specific facts that a licensed state attorney in Washington who is well-versed in the laws of your state is better equipped to handle.


  4. In the context of a lawsuit for malpractice in the health care field, the starting point for analysis is RCW 7.70. (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=7.70). It is also necessary to consider the boundaries of Washington State common law, i.e. MILLER v. JACOBY, 102 Wn. App. 256 (2000) (http://www.mrsc.org/wa/courts/index_dtSearch.html). To determine whether a health care provider was negligent, you need another health care provider in the same field to testify that the treating provider failed to follow the accepted standard of care.
    You should call a personal injury attorney who does medical malpractice cases.

    [In accordance with the Avvo community guidelines, this communication does not constitute "legal advice", nor does it form an attorney-client relationship.]

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