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Admittance of psychologist's testimony requires new trial

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ordered a new trial in a negligence suit due to a car accident after finding the trial court shouldn’t have allowed a psychologist to testify the plaintiff got a brain injury as a result of the accident.

In Henry C. Bennett, et al. v. John E. Richmond, et al., No. 20A03-0906-CV-285, Henry Bennett and his employer Schupan & Sons appealed the denial of their motion to correct error after a jury awarded John and Jennifer Richmond $200,000 in damages for John’s suit that Bennett’s negligence was the proximate cause of his injuries.

While acting within the scope of his employment, Bennett rear-ended John, which caused John’s neck and back injuries. He underwent treatment and then got a back injury while at work seven months later, which exacerbated the injuries he sustained in the car accident.

John underwent a neuropsychological evaluation with Dr. Sheridan McCabe, a psychologist, who testified John sustained a brain injury from the car accident. McCabe reviewed John’s medical records, his deposition in the instant litigation, interviewed John and his wife, and administered neuropsychological tests.

Bennett wanted to exclude McCabe’s testimony on the basis that he isn’t competent to testify regarding a medical diagnosis. The trial court allowed his testimony and also denied Bennett’s motion to correct error after the jury verdict in John’s favor.

The Court of Appeals reversed because McCabe isn’t a medical doctor, and the evaluation of a brain injury, while within the doctor’s field of expertise, is distinct from the determination of a medical cause of the injury. McCabe only testified that in his professional continuing education courses, he has touched on subjects relating to the evaluation of traumatic brain injuries and that he received referrals from two neurologists, wrote Judge Edward Najam.

No medical doctor or other qualified practitioner ever diagnosed John with a brain injury. The trial court abused its discretion in allowing McCabe to testify that John got the brain injury from the accident.

“The trial court should have exercised its discretion as gatekeeper prior to trial to exclude Dr. McCabe’s proffered causation testimony based upon his lack of qualifications to give such testimony,” Judge Najam wrote.

The admission of the testimony was not a harmless error. The evidence regarding the Richmonds’ damages other than the alleged brain injury isn’t sufficient to support the jury verdict.

The judges remanded for a new trial in which McCabe’s testimony is inadmissible absent testimony by a qualified expert that John suffered a brain injury in the car accident.
 

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