Special-Relationship Doctrine Law & Legal Definition


Special relationship doctrine is a legal principle that makes the state liable for the harm inflicted on the individual by a third party provided that the state has assumed control over the individual which is sufficient to trigger an affirmative duty to provide protection to that individual. The special relationship doctrine is an exception to the general principle that government actors are not responsible for private acts of violence.

The following are examples of case law on the doctrine:

The special relationship doctrine is not triggered in an employment relationship, which is presumed consensual.[Moore v. Guthrie, 438 F.3d 1036 (10th Cir. Colo. 2006)]

If the state restrains an individual's freedom to act to protect himself or herself through a restraint on that individual's personal liberty, the state may thereby enter into a "special relationship" during such restraint to protect that individual from violent acts inflicted by others. Absent involuntary restraint, however, no duty to protect arises under the special-relationship theory. The affirmative duty to protect arises not from the State's knowledge of the individual's predicament, but from the limitation which it has imposed on his freedom to act on his own behalf.[Christiansen v. City of Tulsa, 332 F.3d 1270 (10th Cir. Okla. 2003)]