What is a Forensic Neuropsychologist?
A forensic neuropsychologist conducts neuropsychological evaluations that are intended for consumption by the legal system. The forensic neuropsychologist is hired to make an independent determination regarding neuropsychological functioning. Generally, one goal of a neuropsychological assessment is to determine if changes have occurred in the claimant’s attention, memory, language, problem solving, or other thinking skills, for example. The same would be asked of behavior or personality changes.
The terminology “independent medical evaluation” or “independent neuropsychological evaluation” are used in personal injury cases.
In civil litigation, a forensic neuropsychologist can answer questions about residual symptoms, causality, prognosis, diagnosis, medical necessity of treatment, disability status, and functioning in legal cases. For example, an attorney, on behalf of an individual or an insurance company, might contact a neuropsychologist to determine if the claimant’s brain injury from a motor vehicle accident led to brain damage that decreased his or her functioning. It is common when someone is an accident, is injured, and sees physicians for evaluation and treatment, that the insurance carrier, workers compensation board, or attorney representing the plaintiff or defense will also request an examination by an expert forensic neuropsychologist.
A forensic neuropsychologist can also comment on criminal responsibility and competency to stand trial. For example, a criminal court may need to know whether a defendant was not mentally responsible at the time that person was accused of committing the crime or can meaningfully participate in court proceedings involving him or her, due to a brain injury. More commonly, in my experience, is the influence of the neuropsychological evaluation on sentencing and mitigation.
The forensic neuropsychologist has an important role in the courtroom and forensic neuropsychologists have been providing important contributions to landmark personal injury and criminal cases for a number of years. While our field is not as well publicized as some other fields, the scientific basis for our well is well accepted and utilized in the courtroom.
About the author. Dr. Messler is a board certified clinical neuropsychologist and licensed psychologist based out of Charlotte, NC, who has provided thousands of evaluations where the question of traumatic brain injury was raised. She has also served as expert consultant and witness. She believes it is critical to provide an objective, scientifically defensible opinion, and to help the jury and court understand the implications of the neuropsychological aspects of cases before them.