Psychiatry Expert’s Conflicting PTSD Assessment Is Still Considered Reliable


Psychiatry Expert Witness

Court: United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Tardif v. City of New York
Citation: 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 169650

Facts

The plaintiff, Mary Tardif, filed suit against the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and various officers after she sustained injuries during the 2012 Occupy Wall Street protests. The plaintiff alleged that the NYPD falsely arrested her without probable cause, used excessive force to do so, and kept her in unconstitutional conditions of confinement. The plaintiff further alleged that the NYPD  violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by deliberately ignoring her medical condition.

The Experts

The plaintiff retained a licensed psychology expert to testify regarding the on-going post-traumatic stress the plaintiff suffered as a result of the NYPD’s actions. The psychology expert held a Ph.D. in his field and had some brief experience attending inmates with PTSD.

The expert examined the plaintiff and relied upon her account of her circumstances as well as her medical records from the time of her arrest. The expert also used field-standard diagnostic tools to assess the plaintiff. He concluded that the plaintiff’s disorder was prompted by the NYPD’s behavior during the protests, rather than events that occurred earlier in the plaintiff’s life. However, the expert psychologist never consulted the plaintiff’s previous psychiatric records when forming his opinion.

The defendants contended that the plaintiff’s expert was not qualified to testify on this case because he did not specialize in PTSD or generalized anxiety disorders, and further argued that the expert’s conclusions were unreliable. The defendant retained an expert in psychiatry to counter the plaintiff’s testimony. The defendant psychiatrist expert concluded that the plaintiff did not have PTSD. The expert’s conclusion relied upon conventional methods for doing a psychiatric diagnosis, namely, a review of medical records of the plaintiff and his own 4.5-hour examination of the plaintiff.

The defendants moved to exclude the testimony of the plaintiff’s psychology expert, and likewise, the plaintiff moved to exclude the testimony of the defendant’s psychiatry expert.

Court Analysis

The court held that the plaintiff’s psychology expert was qualified to opine on the issue of PTSD based on his advanced education in psychology and his experience treating inmates with PTSD. Although his lack of specialization in PTSD was an appropriate subject for cross-examination, it was not a sufficient reason to exclude his testimony.

The court also held that the psychology expert’s conclusion regarding his examination of the plaintiff’s current mental disorders were based on reliably-applied, field-standard methodology, and therefore met Daubert’s reliability requirement.

However, the court criticized the psychology expert’s conclusion that the plaintiff’s disorders were prompted by the NYPD’s behavior during the protests instead of by earlier ordeals in the plaintiff’s life. In reply to the question of whether the plaintiff’s previous psychiatric records were important to a proper psychological evaluation, the plaintiff’s psychology expert asserted that it would have been important but he was still comfortable with his conclusions based on what he had been given. The court determined that there was “a big analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered,” and that therefore, the opinion could not be considered reliable. The court found that although there might have been deficiencies in the plaintiff expert’s thinking with regard to his observation and diagnosis, they were not adequate to exclude his testimony.

The defendants further challenged the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert, claiming that his report would not assist the jury because it just re-stated the plaintiff’s opinions of her conditions. Although the plaintiff expert’s report explained the psychological tests and diagnostic criteria for his PTSD assessment, it was determined that a large part of the plaintiff expert’s report stated the plaintiff’s own personal history, which could not be considered an assessment of the expert’s experience or knowledge. The court held that the portions of his report which discussed proper subjects of expert testimony were admissible but the parts containing facts learned from the plaintiff were inadmissible.

As for the defendant’s psychiatry expert, the court was convinced that he was qualified to testify on the subject of PTSD given his experience in psychiatry and academic credentials. As against the plaintiff’s argument, the defendant psychiatry expert’s failure to try a differential diagnosis did not render his opinion inadmissible. A differential diagnosis was important when an expert opined on causation. Because the psychiatry expert inferred that the plaintiff did not show symptoms in consonant with PTSD at all, the theory of causation was unnecessary to his opinion.

It was determined that the defendant psychiatry expert’s conclusions would likely be important to the finder of fact. If a juror believed the defendant psychiatry expert that the plaintiff showed no symptoms of PTSD, he or she might decide that the arrests neither provoked nor intensified her PTSD. Therefore, because the expert was qualified to give an expert opinion on the plaintiff’s mental condition, his testimony was deemed reliable and valuable to a finder of fact.

What We Can Learn From This Case

If an expert has educational and experiential qualifications in a field closely related to the issue in question, the court will not exclude the expert’s testimony merely on the grounds that the expert lacks expertise in the specific areas that are directly relevant.

The plaintiff’s contention that the defendant expert psychiatrist’s opinion differed with those of both the plaintiff’s psychology expert witness and the opinions of the plaintiff’s other doctors did not make the defendant expert’s opinion unreliable.

The plaintiff’s contention that causation was not in issue was visibly wrong. To show that the NYPD’s conduct intensified her condition required her to prove that the defendants worsened her PTSD.

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