The Benefits of Using the “Team Approach” When Assessing Emotional Damages in Mass Tort Litigation 

By Dr. Mark I. Levy, MD, DLFAPA
fpamed Forensic Psychiatrist

Mark I. Levy, Md, Dlfapa

Mark I. Levy, MD, DLFAPA

Catastrophic events, or other situations such as toxic torts and product liability claims, often lead to litigation where a large number of claimants report severe emotional damages. While multi-plaintiff litigation requires an expert to contrast and compare vulnerabilities and resiliency factors within members of the litigant group, it also presents unique challenges when assessing the credibility of claims of emotional damages. We have both a broad and deep “bench” of forensic psychiatric experts including members who also possess child and adolescent psychiatric boards, substance abuse and addiction boards, as well as brain injury and neuropsychiatry boards. Access to a range of forensic psychiatric experts with subspecialty expertise is why it is important to utilize the “team approach” when dealing with these types of cases.

What Is the Team Approach?

The team approach involves a group of experts working together to assess the emotional damages sustained by members of a mass tort population. This approach allows for multiple perspectives on each claim, which increases accuracy when it comes to determining the nature and extent of damages, if any, and the likely causation of those claimed damages.

Benefits of Using the Team Approach

Using the team approach has many benefits over typical methods, such as the law firm assembling its own panel of individual experts who may vary in quality and likely have no prior experience working collaboratively with the other experts retained by the law firm. The team assists lawyers and their staff to make more informed judgments about plaintiff damages, if any, as well as their likely causation. This method also reduces bias because experts on a team employing evidence-based scientific methodology may conclude that one plaintiff among the group of litigants was indeed damaged by the defendant as alleged, whereas another plaintiff’s claims may be unsupported after careful forensic psychiatric review. A selective, experienced team of forensic psychiatric and psychological experts reaching different evidence-based conclusions about different individual plaintiffs in a single multi-plaintiff lawsuit adds to the credibility of that team of experts when testifying before the trier of fact.

Importance of Using Experienced Forensic Neuropsychological Experts to Assess Plaintiffs’ Allegations

When dealing with cases involving a large number of claimants seeking emotional damages reportedly caused by a single event, condition, or circumstance, utilizing the “team approach” is essential for ensuring accurate, evidence-based assessments, reinforced by internal “case conferencing” (a widely deployed and establish scientific methodology used within medical contexts).  While also utilizing objective and robust psychological test instruments containing multiple symptom validity scales, the expert should be able to minimize potential sources of bias when evaluating plaintiff claims. This is because experienced forensic neuropsychologists adhere to strict protocols when they select, administer, score, interpret, and report psychological test data derived from individual plaintiffs. Our psychologists only employ tests containing multiple validity scales when conducting forensic assessments, in contrast to clinical assessments. Psychological test data derived from seeking correlation among several robust tests employing more than one test modality and administered in an identical manner to each plaintiff member of the litigant group is accurate and reliable at the 90+% level of proof, far more accurate than the “preponderance of the evidence” level of proof to which the experts must testify. Hence, when the forensic psychiatrist’s opinions are based upon a careful review of all medical and legal documents, a multi-hour in-depth forensic psychiatric interview is also supported by test data derived from multiple robust psychometric instruments. Such data will reveal to the expert and the retaining attorney psychological symptoms, vulnerabilities, and/or resiliency that may not otherwise be apparent using traditional interview methods alone.

By utilizing the combined expertise from a team containing both forensic psychiatrists and psychologists to generate evidence-based forensic opinions, attorneys can be assured that the forensic psychiatric and psychological foundation for their litigation decisions is solid and reliable data. At fpamed, we have a team of 20+ experts who offer this kind of experience.

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