The clinical psychologist who is employed to serve as an evaluator in a civil personal injury case may address the following:
- What mental health disorders are present?
- What legally relevant functional abilities are affected by the event that person may have experienced?
- What is the nature and strength of any casual connection between the alleged event or injury and resulting functional abilities?
- What preexisting issues may explain current functioning?
Common diagnoses seen in personal injury claims include posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and even agoraphobia. However, there is not a 1:1 relationship between having experienced the event and development of a particular disorder such as PTSD. Symptoms often remit over time. It is important for the forensic psychologist to perform a thorough clinical interview with the above in mind.
Psychologists will look at the impact of the above conditions on functional abilities, including work productivity, health, role functioning, and psychosocial functioning. Psychologists will try to explain the relationship between diagnosis and functional capacity. This can aid with disability determination (ability to perform in a specific role or context).
Damages represent changes in the plaintiff’s ability to carry out important, meaningful functions in daily life. The psychologist will comment on whether, as a result of emotional injury, there are observable changes in the plaintiff’s ability to carry out life activities. Often we cannot observe the person’s symptoms of depression but we can make some observations about how they carry out daily life. Thus, diagnosis does not necessarily describe what that person cannot do. Psychologists will therefore focus on describing functioning.
The role that I have described above is not that of treater but rather one of forensic psychologist as objective evaluator. It is important to distinguish between these 2 roles in order for the forensic psychologist to maintain objectivity while performing the evaluation. At the same time, the purpose of the evaluation is to assist the trier of fact in providing an opinion in the above areas, rather than conclusions on matters of law.
There are several forensic psychologists who practice in the Charlotte, NC area and who provide evaluations within the area of civil personal injury cases. These individuals can be located by conducting an internet search for forensic psychologists. It is also important to note that in some cases, there can be accompanying cognitive symptoms associated with the above-noted conditions, and forensic neuropsychologists can be of help in their identification.