Expert Testimony Of Psychologists Regarding Cause Of Brain Injuries

Expert Testimony Of Psychologists Regarding Cause Of Brain Injuries

Truck Accident Attorneys In Indiana Given Guidance About Expert Testimony Of Psychologists Regarding Cause Of Brain Injuries

Being in an accident with a truck is not like being in an accident involving a passenger vehicle, as many truck accident attorneys in Indiana are well aware. Not only are there specific rules and regulations regarding over-the-road trucks and their drivers, but often the injuries sustained in such accidents are much more severe, due to the massive size and weight of the vehicles involved.

An example of such a case is the recent Indiana Supreme Court case of Bennett v. Richmond, decided on January 31, 2012 [http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/01311202fsj.pdf] in which the plaintiff, Richmond, was rear-ended by a 42,000 pound truck driven by defendant Bennett, while Richmond was sitting at a dead-stop in his van, and pushing his van forward 300 feet. As a result of that accident Richmond claimed, among other injuries, that he had experienced headaches and memory loss. As a result,  he was referred by his counsel to be seen by a psychologist who concluded he had suffered a traumatic brain injury caused by the accident.

At trial, over objection of the defense counsel, this psychologist testified not only that Richmond had a traumatic brain injury, but further that this injury was caused by the accident. After the jury awarded plaintiff a $200,000 judgment the defendant appealed, first to the Indiana Court of Appeals which reversed and remanded for a new trial, holding the trial court had abused its discretion to allow this causation testimony. However, the Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer of the case, thereby vacating the Court of Appeals decision. Thereafter, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment and in the process, clarified how trial courts should assess whether a  psychologist or neuropsychologist can testify about the cause of brain injuries.

All parties seemed to agree that the psychologist in this case, who held a Ph.D. in psychology, but was not a medically licensed physician, could testify about the existence and evaluation of the brain injury. Where the parties disagreed was whether the psychologist, who was not medically trained in the physiological aspects of the human body, could testify regarding the cause of the accident. The Indiana Supreme Court held that there should not be a per se rule, as there is in some jurisdictions, banning psychologists testimony on the issue of brain injury causation. Instead, the testimony and opinions should be evaluated using Indiana Evidence Rule 702 to determine, on a case by case basis, whether the proposed expert is qualified to give such an opinion based on certain knowledge, skill, experience, training or education, and whether the underlying scientific principles used are reliable.

The Supreme Court then analyzed the evidence presented by the psychologist to determine if the trial court had abused its discretion in allowing in this testimony, and determining that it had not. They analyzed both prongs of the test, including both the psychologists qualifications to offer his opinions, and regarding the reliability of the causation testimony. The court further noted that many of the issues raised by the defendant in objection to the testimony went to the weight and credibility of the psychologist’s testimony, and were not about his qualifications to give the testimony in the first place. This case should give truck accident attorneys in Indiana greater confidence in presenting brain injury expert witness testimony regarding causation by psychologists in the future, and it signals a greater acceptance under Indiana evidentiary law for such testimony in the future.