Landers v. Chrysler Corporation

963 S.W.2d 275
Brief Filed: 8/97
Court: Missouri Court of Appeals
Year of Decision: 1997

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 387KB)

Issue

Whether a neuropsychologist is qualified to testify as to the causation of a head injury

Index Topics

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

Facts

An employee of Chrysler Corporation sustained injuries when he was struck by an improperly secured crane hook while at work. Upon returning to work, the employee complained of headaches, dizziness, photophobia, ataxia, nausea, confusion and emotional lability. Post-injury, the employee made frequent errors in his job which were corrected by co-workers. Based on these complaints, employee was referred to Dr. Fitzgerald, a clinical psychologist, who determined that the cognitive deficits were organically induced and opined that claimant suffered a 75-80 percent permanent partial disability as a result of the head injury sustained in his work-related accident. Claimant was also examined by Dr. Wetzel, a neuropsychologist, who administered a psychological test battery and conducted a thorough evaluation. Based on the results, Dr. Wetzel concluded that claimant had sustained brain dysfunction and depression caused by the blow to his head. In an administrative proceeding both psychologists testified as to their findings and conclusions about the causation of the organic symptoms. Chrysler's medical experts, however, testified that the claimant did not suffer a concussion as a result of the accident (despite evidence in initial medical reports) and that causation did not exist between his complaints and the work-related injury. The Administrative Law Judge concluded, on the basis of the psychological and other testimony, that causation did exist and awarded 50 percent partial disability and future medical care. That ruling was affirmed by the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee of Jefferson City, Missouri. Chrysler appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals, arguing that the ALJ erred in concluding that causation existed since the only evidence presented was of two clinical psychologists. It averred that psychologists were not competent or qualified to render an opinion regarding whether alleged organic brain deficits were causally related to the accident since they were not medical doctors.

APA's Position

APA, together with the Missouri Psychological Association and the National Academy of Neuropsychology, submitted an amici brief arguing that: (1) by acknowledging that neuropsychologists are competent to testify as to the physical cause of brain injury, the Commission recognized a vital source of information on causation; (2) the Commission's decision accords with Missouri's liberal standard for admission of expert testimony, as well as the conclusions of the vast majority of courts to consider this or analogous questions; and (3) it would be unjust both legally and factually if a categorical exclusion of useful expert testimony were to become the rule in Missouri.

Results

The appellate court in Missouri affirmed the Commission's decision in a strong opinion concerning the scope of permissible practice for neuropsychologists. Following the argument and reasoning, together with the cases cited in the amici brief, it held that competent and substantial evidence supported the finding that claimant's brain deficits were caused by his work-related accident as the psychologist was qualified to testify as to the cause of those deficits. Rehearing (Feb. 9, 1998) and transfer (March 24, 1998) to the Supreme Court of Missouri were denied.