This document is a copy of a decision by the Supreme Court of New Hampshire in the matter of Hungerford v. Jones that was rendered on 18 Dec 1998. The plaintiff Hungerford in this case was Joel Hungerford (M423)
The Supreme Court of New Hampshire had rendered an earlier decision in State of New Hampshire v. Joel Hungerford, a copy of which also has been placed here in the Library. That earlier decision rendered on 1 Jul 1997 involved a criminal prosecution of Joel Hungerford for the sexual abuse of his daughter Laura Hungerford (M423c)
In this case, Joel Hungerford, the Plaintiff father, had filed suit in the federal district court against the defendant therapist alleging that defendant's negligent treatment of his daughter resulted in false accusation of sexual abuse and criminal charges. The district court certified two questions to the court asking whether, and to what extent a therapist owes a duty of care under New Hampshire state law to the father of an adult patient when the father is identified as the perpetrator of sexual abuse in the course of the patient's therapy.
The federal district court held that the severity and likelihood of harm was compelling and clearly foreseeable when false accusations of sexual abuse arise from misdiagnosis. The court held a therapist owes an accused parent a duty of care in the diagnosis and treatment of an adult patient for sexual abuse where the therapist or the patient, acting on the encouragement, recommendation, or instruction of the therapist, takes public action concerning the accusation. The court held the duty of care to the accused parent is breached by the therapist when the publicized misdiagnosis results from use of psychological phenomena or techniques not generally accepted in the mental health community, or lack of professional qualification.
In answer to the certified questions, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire answered the district court questions by ruling that a therapist owes an accused parent a duty of care in the diagnosis and treatment of an adult patient for sexual abuse where the therapist takes or encourages the patient to take public action on the accusation. The court ruled further that the duty of care to the accused parent is breached when the publicized misdiagnosis results from the therapist's lack of experience or medically unaccepted techniques.