Maine Court Allows Vocational Rehabilitation Expert To Opine On Mental Health Conditions


Vocational Rehabilitation Expert

Court: United States District Court for the District of Maine
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Howard v. Demo Salvage
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15269

Facts

This case involves a plaintiff who sustained serious workplace injuries when a 3,000 lb slab of cement fell through a hole in the floor and struck her. As a result of her injuries, the plaintiff required several hospitalizations, corrective surgeries, and allegedly suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. The plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant corporation claiming negligence and filed a motion to exclude the testimony of the defendant’s vocational rehabilitation and life care planning expert witness.

The Vocational Rehabilitation Expert

According to the defendant, the expert planned to opine on the plaintiff’s employability, transferable skills learned from past occupations and earning capacity in the local labor market. The expert was also retained to determine the feasibility of the plaintiff receiving vocational rehabilitation services.

The vocational rehabilitation expert expressed that the plaintiff could be placed in the job market on a full-time, competitive basis as a pipefitter and/or a pipefitter helper. He also opined in his report that the plaintiff had sustained no loss of earnings due to her injuries. The expert further asserted that the plaintiff’s ability to replace her earnings was dependent on her motivation to remain employed. The plaintiff sought to exclude the testimony claiming it was not sufficiently reliable and that the expert reached conclusions beyond his expertise.

Court Discussion

The plaintiff’s argument relied partly on the fifth part of the expert’s methodology in which he stated he reviewed all the materials before formulating his opinion. As the plaintiff noted, the expert reserved the right to modify his vocational opinions in light of additional opinions and that the expert deposition illustrates that subsequent information could change some of his conclusions. It was determined, however, that although the expert did not review the deposition of the plaintiff or personally interview her by the time of his deposition, these facts had nothing to do with the admissibility of the expert’s testimony.

The expert’s opinion on the impact of the plaintiff’s psychological condition on her employability seemed to be grounded in his prior experience with individuals who suffered from PTSD and returned to work. He also had doubts about the plaintiff’s motivation to seek work, which he seemed to derive from what he viewed as her “documented lack of purpose” and the fact that she returned to work, albeit relatively briefly, after her injury. In the court’s view, the expert could opine, based on his experience and professional expertise, that plaintiff’s PTSD diagnosis did not necessarily mean she had no earning capacity.

Held

The court concluded that the expert expected testimony was fundamentally supported, sufficiently reliable to assist the jury, and that any deficiencies in his methodology or the foundation for his conclusions could be adequately addressed through cross-examination. The court denied the plaintiff’s motion to exclude the expert’s testimony of the expert, holding that the expert was not substituting his opinions for those of mental health professio

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