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Can you sue a psychologist if you are not a patient?

Richmond, VA |

We have a local psychologist who presents programs and solicits business as an expert in teenage thinking and development. My son and I attended one of his presentations. Afterwards my son asked to see the counselor professionally.I called him and told him my son had seen his presentation and wanted an appointment with him. He said he had no appointments for two months. He gave us no referrals or alternatives. Six months later my son committed suicide. Is he liable for anything and is there a stature of limitations

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Attorney answers 16

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I am sorry to hear about your son's death. Unfortunately, you likely do not have a claim against the psychologist. In order to have a claim against the psychologist for wrongful death, there must be a duty between him and your son. Since your son was not a patient, there was no doctor/patient relationship. If there was a doctor/patient relationship, you must prove that the acts or omissions of the psychologist were the direct or proximate cause of your son's suicide. The psychologist merely did not have appointments available for new patients and there is no duty to refer your son to another physician. It does not seem as though the psychologist did any intentional or negligent act to cause your son's death. I wish you the best of luck.


This question is probably best posed to a civil attorney and not under criminal defense.


Unfortunately, I can't imagine there would be a viable claim here. Your son was not a patient of this doctor and accordingly he owed your son no duty of care.

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I am sorry about your son. Since six months had gone by and since your son never became a patient, there would be no case against this doctor. Again, I am sorry for your loss.


Can you sue a psychologist if you are not a patient? No, generally you cannot (of course if you want to be clever you could say - yes if she runs over your foot or something). There must be a patient/doctor relationship in order his or her care to fall below the standard of care - i.e., malpractice.

I am terribly sorry for your loss. However, there is no cause of action that I am aware of based on the fact pattern you presented.

Best wishes.

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I can think of no sadder situation. I am truly sorry about the situation that you have found yourself in.

You are best guided by a malpractice attorney in the vicinity where the psychologist resides. He or she will know the particular law. That said, assuming you have a malpractice situation here, I am not generally aware of any law that establishes liability between psychologist and (potential) patient if no relationship in fact was commenced or for not giving a referral. However, just to make sure, you will want to check with a local attorney.

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I agree with most of my colleagues. I could not envision a scenario in which such a claim could be brought. This psychologists appears to have had no knowledge of your son or any conditions from which he may have suffered. Sorry for your loss.


At the outset, please accept my condolences for the loss of your son. However, if your son was not a patient of the psychologist, there would be no basis to hold the psychologist liable. You were free to contact another psychologist for the care and treatment of your sone if the first psychologist was not available. You should contact a local lawyer to discuss the specific facts of your matter to determine if there is any other basis for recovery.


I am very sorry to read of your loss; but there is no case (at least in California) against the psychologist under the facts as you have presented them. I can't tell if the psychologist ever saw him or what happened if he did. More facts and details could be important and should be explored personally with a local experienced malpractice attorney immediately.


I am sorry for your loss. The loss of child is terrible. You should check with a local personal injury or medical malpractice attorney but in my opinion under California law, the psychologist would not be held liable. There are many issues but one issue would be if a professional relationship existed.

Again I am so sorry for your loss.

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Medical Professionals
"Doctors, psychiatrists and other health care professionals, and trained counselors - even school counselors - may be liable for someone's suicide. As a practical matter, their liability, if any, depends on the same legal principals as a malpractice case. It requires a showing that:

•The professional owed a duty to the victim to protect him from harm. A doctor-patient relationship can establish the duty
•The professional "breached" or broke that duty
•The breach of duty and victim's injury are connected
•The victim in fact suffered an injury
Lawsuits involving suicide and malpractice are filed by someone who survives the person who committed suicide, such as a parent or spouse, or sometimes the suicide victim's estate, especially if he was an adult. Also, these suits are typically called wrongful death lawsuits.

A medical or mental health care professional may face liability for a suicide in cases involving:

•Misdiagnosing or failing to properly identify the risk of suicide
•Failing or refusing to take appropriate measures to prevent suicide, up to and including involuntary commitment to a mental health facility
•Prescribing medications, or an improper dosage of medications, that tend to increase the risk of suicide
•In the case of minors or other dependent children, failing to inform parents or guardians of suicide risks identified by the professional' from Who's Legally Liable When Someone Commits Suicide?
POSTED IN Wrongful Death BY

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I am very sorry you lost your son. No, given these circumstances, you do not have a claim against the psychologist.

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I am incredibly sorry for your loss. I can't possibly imagine anything more painful than the loss of a child. I do agree with the other attorneys, however. To invoke liability here would essentially mean that physicians would be the insurers of all who call their office for appointments (conditions unknown). That would place a dire burden on the medical profession. As a nurse with a strong passion for mental health I felt compelled to share a link to a support group in your area. You may already know of the organization, NAMI. If so, here it is again: Hopefully, you can find a common bond with others who are grieving a similar loss. If not ready now, file it away, and go when you feel ready. Though I don't know you, my thoughts are with you ... Best wishes, Tara.


I am very sorry to hear about your son. it would probably be incredibly difficult to prevail in a malpractice case in this circumstance, but you should consult a malpractice attorney in your area for advice.


First, my thoughts go out to you and your family. From the sparse facts that you provided, the psychologist did have a doctor/patient relationship with your son and did not provide any treatment to your son. I don't see any act or omission of this psychologist that would constitute malpractice. I would recommend that you speak to a medical malpractice attorney in Virginia.


No, a lawsuit on these facts would be an exercise in futility.