Saturday, January 5, 2013

California Law Regarding Civil Actions for Sexual Contact Between Therapists and Patients

California Civil Code Section 43.93 provides as follows:

(a) For the purposes of this section the following definitions are applicable:

 (1) "Psychotherapy" means the professional treatment, assessment, or counseling of a mental or emotional illness, symptom, or condition.

 (2) "Psychotherapist" means a physician and surgeon specializing in the practice of psychiatry, a psychologist, a psychological assistant, a marriage and family therapist, a registered marriage and family therapist intern or trainee, an educational psychologist, an associate clinical social worker, a licensed clinical social worker, a professional clinical counselor, or a registered clinical counselor intern or trainee.

 (3) "Sexual contact" means the touching of an intimate part of another person. "Intimate part" and "touching" have the same meanings as defined in subdivisions (f) and (d), respectively, of Section 243.4 of the Penal Code. For the purposes of this section, sexual contact includes sexual intercourse, sodomy, and oral copulation.

 (4) "Therapeutic relationship" exists during the time the patient or client is rendered professional service by the psychotherapist.

 (5) "Therapeutic deception" means a representation by a psychotherapist that sexual contact with the psychotherapist is consistent with or part of the patient's or former patient's treatment.

(b) A cause of action against a psychotherapist for sexual contact exists for a patient or former patient for injury caused by sexual contact with the psychotherapist, if the sexual contact occurred under any of the following conditions:

 (1) During the period the patient was receiving psychotherapy from the psychotherapist.

 (2) Within two years following termination of therapy.

 (3) By means of therapeutic deception.

(c) The patient or former patient may recover damages from a psychotherapist who is found liable for sexual contact. It is not a defense to the action that sexual contact with a patient occurred outside a therapy or treatment session or that it occurred off the premises regularly used by the psychotherapist for therapy or treatment sessions. No cause of action shall exist between spouses within a marriage.

California tort law and "common law" already provide for actions for sexual assault and battery, however, this statute provides for an additional cause of action that may be brought in a Superior Court civil action for sexual contact between patients and their psychiatrists or psychologists.  This shows that the Golden State, through their legislature, has deemed it a high priority to protect the rights of patients.

These are not common occurrences but, unfortunately, due to the nature of the relationships and lapses in judgment by physicians or other health care providers, these incidents do occur.  If a person seeking therapy has been the victim of this type of abuse, it is important to consult with an attorney familiar with these types of cases.