There is an interesting lawsuit filed in Chicago where Carlos J. Carillo, 23, is suing attorney Stacey Platt and the Loyola Child Law Center for representing him as a minor during a divorce proceeding with his parents but not acting on their knowledge of his mother’s child abuse.
Carillo alleges that Platt “was very aware of the severity and frequency of abuse” that Carrillo’s mother inflicted on him and his siblings but did nothing to try to protect them. He cites a police report showing that his mother pulled a knife on him and threatened to stab him. He states that his mother also stabbed his father in the chest. There are also three court orders requiring his mother to get anger management counseling. He alleges that her abuse ruined his life and wants $500,000 from Platt and Loyola University. He also demands funding for mental health treatment and free college.
The case in intriguing not only due to the passage of time (and possible statute of limitations) but the theory of liability. It is analogous to the famous 1976 ruling in Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California. and the imposition of liability on a university. See Tarasoff opinion. In that case, Prosinjit Podder, a graduate student at Berkeley, fell in love with Tatiana Tarasoff. When she stated that she wanted to date other men, Podder went to counseling at the University Health Service and is treated by psychologist, Dr. Lawrence Moore. When he told Moore that he wanted to get a gun and kill Tarasoff, Moore sent a letter to campus police who interviewed Podder and decided that he was not a risk. Podder then went ahead and murdered Tarasoff.
In a controversial decision, Justice Mathew O. Tobriner held that “… the confidential character of patient-psychotherapist communications must yield to the extent that disclosure is essential to avert danger to others. The protective privilege ends where the public peril begins.” As a result, the hospital was held liable for the criminal actions of a third party — something that usually (but not always) cuts off proximate causation. (It also rejected strong arguments made by doctors that such liability would create a chilling affect on counseling. A large number of patients often express their anger by focusing it on individuals and stating an intent to “kill that guy.” In the vast majority of such cases, the open disclosure is addressed and defused. However, if the patient knows that the doctor will have to tell authorities, such feelings are less likely to be expressed and addressed.)
In this case, there is no privilege issue but there is a question of responsibility for the abuse. He is essentially alleging malpractice against the lawyer and the school for failing to fully investigate or act upon evidence of abuse. The proximate causation between that alleged breach and the later injury, however, may be difficult to establish. Either way, this could be a very significant ruling for lawyers and public interest organizations working as guardians or representatives.
There is a conspicuous lack of detail on how Platt allegedly knew about this abuse — reinforcing the suspicion of a frivolous lawsuit. Platt has had a long and distinguished career in the representation of low-income children. The Center itself is also highly regarded for its work on behalf of children. To sustain a case of this kind, Carillo will need to show clear proof of knowledge of abuse. There is an obvious desire among child advocates to keep children with their biological parents and mothers are often given primary custody.
Even if he can prove such actual knowledge, I would be interested in how he tolled the statute since years have passed since he reached the age of majority. None of this takes away from the sympathy for this man’s obviously tragic life. However, he may not find the responsibility or the relief lies with his former counsel.
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