Schudel v. General Electric

120 F.3d 991
Brief Filed: 7/95
Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Year of Decision: 1997

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 189KB)

Issues

Whether neuropsychologists are competent to testify on issues pertaining to causation of an "organic" mental condition

Index Topics

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

Facts

This appeal to the U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit challenged, inter alia, the district court's finding that certain neuropsychologists were not qualified to give expert testimony as to the causation of organic brain damage. The case involves the alleged poisoning of workers at Kaiser Aluminum Chemical Plant in Spokane, Wash., who used organic solvents and detergents to remove polychlorinated biphenyl contamination from a poorly ventilated basement. Exposure to neurotoxic chemicals used during the cleanup is alleged to have caused brain damage. At trial, plaintiffs' neuropsychologists were not permitted to testify on the issue of causation. The court held that a physician must ultimately make the diagnosis and plaintiffs' neuropsychologists lacked the foundation (i.e., expertise by training and education) necessary to testify.

APA's Position

APA filed an amicus brief arguing that: (1) Federal Rule of Evidence 702 establishes broad standards for the qualification of experts; (2) the neuropsychologist expert in the case was qualified to testify as to the relevant issue because psychologists are qualified to give expert testimony diagnosing the causes of psychological conditions as supported by case law, experience and neuropsychological training that is rigorous, scientific and relevant to the issue at bar; and (3) neuropsychology is a respected and established scientific discipline providing expertise in identifying the existence, causes and consequences of organic brain damage and, thus, that psychologists are the leading experts concerning the diagnosis of neurotoxic poisoning.

Results

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that certain neuropsychologists were not qualified to give expert testimony as to the causation of organic brain injury where the expert relied on evidence which failed to satisfy the Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993) criteria. The holding, however, appears limited to the facts at issue here and not as a broad indictment against neurological expert testimony. Case was vacated, reversed and remanded on other grounds.