Chandler Exterminators Inc. v. Morris

200 Ga. App. 816, reh'g denied 262 Ga. 257
Brief(s) Filed: 12/90 (Ga. Ct. App.); 6/92 (Ga. S. Ct.)
Court: Georgia Court of Appeals; Supreme Court of Georgia
Year(s) of Decision: 1991; 1992

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 1MB)

Issue

Whether the lower court erred in rejecting the testimony of a neuropsychologist concerning the causes of brain damage as a result of exposure to the neurotoxic substance Aldrin and ruling that psychologists are not competent to testify as to the organic causes of psychological dysfunction by stating "medical causation is not a subject within the scope of psychological expertise"

Index Topics

Expert Witnesses/Psychologists' Competency, Neuropsychologists' Competency (Brain Injury Assessment)

Facts

A Georgia trial court ruled inadmissible the expert testimony of a neuropsychologist because it found that psychologists could not testify as to the cause of a mental disorder to a reasonable degree of medical certainty. The trial court opinion implied that psychologists were not qualified to diagnose or testify about the causal relationship between a physical injury (in this case, exposure to pesticides) and mental injury (cognitive, affective, or behavioral disturbances).

APA's position

APA submitted an amicus brief arguing that the Superior Court erred insofar as it held that only physicians might qualify as experts concerning medical causation. The brief argued that psychologists are qualified to give expert testimony concerning the causes of psychological conditions since: (1) under Georgia law, psychologists are qualified and competent to identify the causes of mental and nervous disorders; (2) the court has acknowledged that psychologists are qualified to testify as expert witnesses concerning the causes of psychological disorders; and (3) by statute, Georgia recognizes psychologists' competence to diagnose and treat mental and nervous disorders and therefore necessarily recognizes psychologists' expertise in identifying the causes of such disorders. Additionally, APA's brief noted that, consistent with Georgia law, the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions to rule on this issue have held that psychologists are qualified experts on the causes of psychological disorders because: (1) training and experience render them able to provide expert testimony concerning causation of psychological conditions; (2) psychological training and practice are rigorous, scientific, and relevant to the issues at bar; and (3) neuropsychology is a respected and established scientific and professional discipline expert in identifying the existence, causes, and consequences of organic brain damage. Finally, the brief stated that neuropsychology can assess organic damage caused by neurotoxicants and can often diagnose which agent has caused the organic damage.

Results

The Georgia Court of Appeals rendered a decision that adopted the APA position. However, the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia agreed to hear the case and reversed the appellate court, holding that the trial court was within its discretion in denying admission of the psychologists' testimony. The petition for rehearing was denied.