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J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 1998;26(1):75-87.

Extended civil commitment for dangerous psychiatric patients.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles 90086-0125, USA.


Mental health clinicians are increasingly held civilly liable for the dangerous acts of their psychiatric patients. One area of liability is the negligent release of involuntarily committed patients who engage in dangerous acts after their hospital discharge. All states have provisions for extended involuntary commitment for mentally ill dangerous patients. We examined extended civil commitment petitions in Los Angeles County, California, and found that the great majority were rejected. While the standard for extended civil commitment in California includes verbal threats of substantial physical harm, deputy district attorneys tended to reject petitions initiated by clinicians when verbal threats were the sole criterion of dangerousness. This tendency by deputy district attorneys can be quite confusing for clinicians. Mental health professionals' liability has sensitized them to the legal implications of patients' verbal threats of harm; attorneys do not incur the same legal liability and are not so sensitized.

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