The Psychiatric Expert Witness
Forensic mental health professionals serving as expert witnesses are regularly asked to opine whether an alleged traumatic incident caused psychological harm, and if so what type of treatment may be indicated. When the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit is a child and the incident involves sexual abuse, these clinical determinations can become quite difficult. A further complicating factor is the nature of the United States judicial system. In the majority of civil tort cases involving putative psychiatric injuries, different expert witnesses are separately retained by the attorneys for the defendant and plaintiff. Given the prevailing adversarial system of law, there are considerable incentives for the expert to offer opinions favorable to the hiring side. In some instances experts are selected because of their reputation for advocating a particular point of view (e.g., “false memory” authorities). In other cases more “neutral” appearing experts are chosen, but even the most independent minded of expert witnesses will experience subtle pressure to conform their opinions to fit the attorney’s theory of the case.
KeywordsSexual Abuse Child Sexual Abuse False Memory Nursery School Expert Witness
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