Horne v. Goodson Logging Co.

349 S.E.2d 293
Brief Filed: 8/86
Court: North Carolina Court of Appeals
Year of Decision: 1986

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 344KB)

Issue

Whether a neuropsychologist is competent and credible to testify as an expert determining neurological disability for the purposes of awarding monetary compensation

Index Topics

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

Facts

Edward Horne was injured at work when a heavy log fell onto his head. To prove his claim of brain injury, Horne presented the testimony of a clinical neuropsychologist. A neurosurgeon testified that Horne was not organically impaired. The Workman's Compensation Commissioner concluded that Horne did not suffer any disabling permanent brain injury and asserted that the neuropsychologist's testimony was neither competent nor credible because it disagreed with a medical doctor (the neurosurgeon). Horne appealed the decision to a three-member panel of the Commission, and in a 2-1 vote the original decision was upheld. Horne appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals

APA's position

APA submitted an amicus brief arguing that: (1) the court is not bound by the determination of the commission that the testimony of the neuropsychologist was incompetent and not credible; (2) the commission's decision to exclude the testimony of the expert neuropsychologist witness was (a) clearly erroneous as a matter of law, (b) based on archaic and obsolete notions rejected by modern day authority in the United States, and (c) violated North Carolina's Constitution and was contrary to the purposes of the Worker's Compensation Act; (2) professional psychologists are qualified to (a) perform forensic psychological evaluations, and (b) provide expert opinions on mental disabilities in worker's compensation hearings and other judicial proceedings by virtue of their education, training and experience; (3) psychology has been recognized as an independent profession whose practitioners are competent to provide expert diagnostic and assessment services, and psychologists are respected participants in the provision of health care delivery and collaborate closely with their physician counterparts; (4) neuropsychology is a respected and established scientific and professional discipline whose findings would be uniquely helpful in effectuating the purposes of this state's worker's compensation act by virtue of the fact that (a) neuropsychologists can offer unique perspectives on the presence of brain injury and on the disabling effects of such injury on behavior, (b) the most serious results of brain injury are its effects on cognitive, emotional and behavioral functioning, (c) neurological examinations and neuroradiological tests are very limited in their capacity to detect brain damage, and (d) neuropsychological testing for cognitive, emotional and behavioral dysfunction is the only means of diagnosing some forms of brain damage; and (5) the neuropsychologist whose testimony was excluded in this case met all the criteria for admission as an expert witness on the issue of disability resulting from brain injury and would have offered a unique, comprehensive and relevant opinion on that issue to the commission.

Results

In a 2-1 decision, the North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed the Industrial Commission. The court stated that the commissioner had erred in concluding that the neuropsychologist's testimony was incompetent. The dissenting judge's opinion was more favorable to APA's arguments than was the majority opinion and borrowed heavily from the APA brief.