Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska


Date of this Version



Published in Behavioral Sciences and the Law 23 (2005), pp. 573–590; doi: 10.1002/bsl.651.


Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Used by permission.


Qualified immunity from civil liability exists for acts of disaster mental health (DMH) practitioners responding to disasters or acts of terrorism. This article reviews current legal regimens dictating civil liability for potentially wrongful acts of DMH professionals and volunteers responding to disasters. Criteria are proposed to inform determinations of civil liability for DMH workers in disaster re-sponse, given current legal parameters and established tort law in relevant areas. Specific consider-ations are examined that potentially implicate direct liability of DMH professionals and volunteers, and vicarious liability of DMH supervisors for actions of volunteer subordinates. The relevance of pre-event DMH planning and operationalization of the plan post-event is linked to considerations of liability. This article concludes with recommendations to minimize liability exposure for DMH workers in response efforts.