Emerich v. Philadelphia Center For Human Development, Inc.

720 A.2d 1032 (1998)


Hausler and Joseph, girlfriend and boyfriend, were cohabitating in Philadelphia. Both had been receiving mental health treatment at D. Joseph had a history of physically and verbally abusing Hausler, as well as his former wife, and a history of other violent propensities. Joseph often threatened to murder Hausler and suffered from homicidal ideations. Hausler ended her relationship with Joseph, moved from their Philadelphia residence, and relocated to Reading, Pennsylvania. Joseph had indicated during several therapy sessions at D that he wanted to harm Hausler. On the morning of June 27, 1991, at or about 9:25 a.m., Joseph telephoned his counselor, Mr. Scuderi, and advised him that he was going to kill Ms. Hausler. Mr. Scuderi immediately scheduled and carried out a therapy session with Joseph at 11:00 that morning. During the therapy session, Joseph told Mr. Scuderi that his irritation with Ms. Hausler was becoming worse because that day she was returning to their apartment to get her clothing, that he was under great stress, and that he was going to kill her if he found her removing her clothing from their residence. Joseph refused a voluntary commitment; however, he stated that he was in control and would not hurt Ms. Hausler. Joseph was permitted to leave the Center 'based solely upon his assurances that he would not harm' Hausler. At 12:15 p.m., Mr. Scuderi received a telephone call from Hausler informing him that she was in Philadelphia en route to retrieve her clothing from their apartment, located at 6924 Large Street. Hausler inquired as to Joseph's whereabouts. Mr. Scuderi instructed Ms. Hausler not to go to the apartment and to return to Reading. Hausler ignored Mr. Scuderi's instructions and went to the residence where she was fatally shot by Joseph at or about 12:30 p.m. Joseph telephoned Mr. Scuderi who in turn called the police. P filed two wrongful death and survival actions, alleging, inter alia, that D negligently failed to properly warn Hausler, and others including her family, friends and the police, that Joseph presented a clear and present danger of harm to her. D got a judgment in that the duty of a mental health professional to warn a third party had not yet been adopted in Pennsylvania, but that even if such a legal duty existed, Mr. Scuderi's personal warning discharged that duty. P appealed.