Supreme Court of Virginia Narrows the Legal Duty to Warn

In a 4-3 vote, the Supreme Court of Virginia denied relief under the legal theory that “an implied undertaking may give rise to an assumed duty to warn or protect against the danger of a criminal act by a third party.”

In this case, taxi cab dispatchers would voluntarily screen phone calls and log phone numbers from “troubling” callers. When a caller that had been “red-flagged” requested a driver, the defendant dispatcher failed to warn the driver of a potential criminal act by the caller. The caller fatally shot the driver. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the judgment of the Circuit Court of the City of Petersburg, which held that the dispatcher owed no legal duty to warn the driver of the caller’s potential criminal act.

In his dissent, Justice McCullough, joined by Justice Mims and Justice Powell, proposed a five-element test for determining whether a person can impliedly and voluntarily assume a legal duty to warn against a criminal act by a third party.

Read the full opinions here.