The Assessment of Malingering in Civil Litigation

The Assessment of Malingering in Civil Litigation

by Sarah A. Hall, PhD

The assessment of the likelihood that a plaintiff or claimant may be exaggerating, feigning, or malingering cognitive and/or emotional impairment is of paramount importance in a variety of civil and criminal cases. These include personal injury lawsuits and sentencing hearings, as well as disputes regarding medical disability and workers compensation cases.

There are a variety of approaches that forensic psychologists and neuropsychologists can use to help distinguish between more valid symptoms and complaints as opposed to those that are more consistent with exaggeration, feigning or malingering. Validity scales embedded in various tests of personality, such as the highly popular MMPI-2 or MMPI-2-RF (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2nd Ed. Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2nd Ed.-Revised Format) or the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) can help to identify patterns of responding that raise concerns about the honesty or sincerity of a claimant’s self-report.

Performances on psychological and neuropsychological tests or tasks that involve overlapping cognitive functions can be analyzed for unlikely discrepancies or patterns of responding. Similarly, performances on formal tests and reported activities and functioning at work and/or home can be examined for unusual or unlikely discrepancies. Medical tests and exams, such as brain scans and evaluations done at the time of injury can be compared with self-reported symptoms as well as with performances on psychological and neuropsychological reports in order to find inconsistencies and/or unlikely patterns of results.

In addition, several tests, such as the Test of Memory Malingering (TOMM) and the Word Memory Test (WMT) have been developed which were designed specifically to help identify feigned or malingered memory impairment. Low scores on these tests, which can be completed successfully by most brain-injured individuals, help to identify individuals who are putting forth poor effort, exaggerating, or malingering cognitive impairment. Test performances can be analyzed for random responding, as well compared with average scores for groups of cognitively intact, as well as the average scores for brain injured and demented subjects.

The appropriate and overlapping use of these approaches can be quite successful in helping to identify those claimants who are exaggerating or feigning cognitive and/or emotional injuries. In combination with a thorough and detailed interview examination that includes personal, educational, employment and physical and mental health histories, as well as a comprehensive review of all available records, exaggerated or feigned claims frequently can be identified and disputes more easily resolved.

Sarah A. Hall, PhD
Adult and Pediatric Neuropsychologist
Forensic Psychiatric Associates, LP
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