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Psychologists May Testify About Brain Injuries From Trucking Accident, Indiana High Court Rules – Bennett v. Richmond

By February 13, 2012July 18th, 2019Trucking Accidents

Southern Illinois semi truck accident attorneys like me know that brain injuries are a common and very serious result of accidents with large commercial trucks. Because of trucks’ greater height and weight, they’re more likely than other cars to cause this kind of injury — and when they do, the victims are left with an irreparable change to some aspect of their lives. That was the claim in Bennett v. Richmond by John Richmond, whose van was rear-ended in 2004 by a container truck driven by Henry Bennett for Schuman & Sons, Inc. Richmond and his wife sued the defendants, and supported their claim at trial with testimony from a psychologist. After the jury found for the Richmonds, the defendants appealed, arguing that the psychiatrist was not qualified to give this testimony and the testimony was insufficient. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld.
The 2005 lawsuit alleged the accident was responsible for Richmond’s neck and back injuries. Richmond had been stopped in a one-ton van when Bennett’s 42,000-pound truck rear-ended it, pushing the van 300 feet and causing a type of whiplash. Richmond had also had headaches and memory loss since the crash, but had not been formally diagnosed with a brain injury. His attorney referred him for a psychiatric evaluation with Dr. Sheridan McCabe, a psychologist who diagnosed him with a traumatic brain injury after interviews, tests and a review of the records. Defendants objected before, during and after trial to McCabe’s testimony, unsuccessfully. At each step, they argued that the testimony was not admissible. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, agreeing that McCabe was not qualified to offer an opinion on the cause of Richmond’s injury. The defendants appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court. Unfortunately, John Richmond died in February of 2011; his estate continued the case.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in this case that psychologists are not per se unqualified to testify as to the causes of brain injuries, though they must meet Indiana rules for giving testimony; the high court agreed. Thus, it analyzed whether McCabe in particular was not qualified to testify as to Richmond’s injuries. The Court of Appeal found that he was not because he was not a medical doctor and had no demonstrated medical expertise in the etiology of brain injuries. However, the Indiana high court found that McCabe was uniquely qualified to testify, particularly in light of the fact that closed brain injuries like Richmond’s can go undiagnosed by medical doctors. In any case, the court said, education is just one way to qualify as an expert; McCabe clearly demonstrated the relevant knowledge. Nor does the record show that McCabe’s testimony was inadmissible because it was not based on reliable scientific principles, the court found. Thus, it upheld the trial court.
As a Missouri tractor-trailer accident lawyer, I’m pleased to see another avenue open for plaintiffs who suffered severe injuries in accidents with 18-wheelers. I’d particularly like to pull out a fact that the Indiana court touched on only briefly: Richmond had an undiagnosed brain injury. This is more common than you might think, if you don’t happen to have studied the issue. Brain injuries can be subtle; any blow to the head that causes you to pass out is a mild concussion. After a crash, victims may be too shaken up to evaluate themselves; it may be a week or more before they start noticing telltale signs like unexplained headaches or memory loss. They may also be impaired by the injury itself. That’s why it’s important for victims of trucking accidents to go to the doctor to be checked out after a crash, even if they don’t think there’s anything wrong. The sooner it’s documented, the sooner a St. Louis big rig accident attorney like me can begin to get help.

If your family has suffered a brain injury or other serious injury because of a truck driver’s negligence, don’t hesitate to call Carey, Danis & Lowe to discuss your rights and your options. You can reach us through our website or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.
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