Abstracted from a paper presented at the 25th meeting of the International Neuropsychological Society, Orlando, FL,
February 7, 1997.
Brain Damage Caused by Collision with Forensic Neuropsychologists
Russell M. Bauer, Ph.D., ABPP/CN
Departments of Clinical and Health Psychology and Neurology
University of Florida
The forensic application of neuropsychological data is becoming increasingly
popular, though it seems that the empirical basis of impressions and conclusions that are
rendered in forensic settings is relatively meager.
This seminar is intended to explore
issues regarding conclusions that are rendered about neuropsychological data in forensic
In particular, this seminar is concerned with conclusions which lead to
testimony that the patient, for whatever reason, is “brain damaged” as a result of a
specific accident that is the subject of litigation.
The professional neuropsychologist is often called upon to render an opinion
regarding the cognitive status of individual patients vis a vis a particular event in time.
Attorneys typically request (or demand) that some statement be made about the nature,
severity, and origin of the patient’s cognitive deficits, if they exist at all.
To what extent
can the patient’s problems be attributed to a specific event, like an accident?
What is the
magnitude of impairment the patient has suffered relative to a situation in which the
accident did not occur?
These are serious questions, often carrying with them significant
implications about the patient’s current self-esteem, the patient’s legal status, and the
patient’s future financial well-being.
The Problem Defined
I give this seminar because I have seen too many patients in litigation whose so-
called “impairments” represent either false positive errors or flagrant misuse of
I believe that most practicing neuropsychologists have
encountered at least one of these cases, and that such errors have potentially serious
consequences for both patients and neuropsychologists.
First, patients who are falsely
labeled as “impaired” are sometimes done a potentially serious disservice by their
treating neropsychologists because such labels often engender self-fulfilling prophecies.
Patients may be led to believe that they are incapable of getting better; that they are
permanently disabled, and that they lack control over their present and future status.
Further, by virtue of being inappropriately diagnosed, patients may be referred for
expensive and labor-intensive treatment or management services that they either don’t
need or which is downright detrimental to their post-accident recovery.
Second, if these
errors exist with any prevalence in litigation settings, then appropriate and reasoned
professional activity within the neuropsychological community is undermined.
ill-served if we do not confront and discuss this problem directly.
Why do such errors occur?