Mastering Expert Testimony: A Courtroom Handbook for Mental Health Professionals

By William T. Tsushima; Robert M. Anderson Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
PERSONAL INJURY

"What makes you so sure that the accident caused all the emotional problems?"

When the present day atmosphere is characterized as a litigious society in which monetary compensation is sought for practically any maloccurrence, reference is being made to tort law. Tort pertains to a civil wrongdoing, ranging from libel to assault to professional malpractice, which is brought to the legal system for remedial action. One of the most common tort actions involves the negligent or intentional infliction of personal injury on the plaintiff by the defendant, a prime example being a motor vehicle accident.

Personal injury entails physical damage as well as emotional and mental problems for which the injured party may seek financial compensation for medical bills, wage loss and, in some instances, pain and suffering. (Legal rules pertaining to the plaintiff's right to recover for psychological symptoms vary among different jurisdictions). When emotional injury is claimed, a psychologist or psychiatrist plays a critical role in determining the presence of psychological damage and its etiology ( Ewing, 1985; Melton et al., 1987).

The courtroom examination of the mental health expert in civil lawsuits is similar to what occurs in criminal trials (chapter 4). The expert witness will be asked how the clinical examination was conducted, what findings were obtained, and the causal connection, if any, between the plaintiff's psychological state and the alleged incident. After the usual qualification process, the following direct examination many ensue.

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