This case arises out of a tragic vessel fire on the Mississippi River resulting in personal injury and death. Before trial, the parties settled all issues except for the amount of damages owed to an injured seaman and the family of a deceased seaman.
The trial team of the injured seaman wanted to introduce the opinions of a social worker to diagnose the seaman with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The vessel owner American River Transportation Company (ARTCO) filed a motion to exclude the social worker’s PTSD diagnosis under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 because ARTCO argued the social worker was not qualified to make a PTSD diagnosis.
Federal Rule of Evidence 702 provides that for expert testimony to be admissible, (1) the testimony [must be] based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) ... the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness [must have] applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.” This rule requires the district court to act as a gatekeeper to ensure that “any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable.” The goal is to “exclude expert testimony that is based merely on subjective belief or unsupported speculation.”
ARTCO argued the social worker was not qualified to offer a PTSD diagnosis because he had no advanced degrees in psychology nor licenses to practice psychology or neuropsychology. ARTCO also pointed to Louisiana Revised Statute section 37:2703(14)(c), which provides that a licensed social worker is not authorized “to administer or interpret psychological tests, or to engage in the practice of psychology,” or “to engage in the practice of medicine.” ARTCO also pointed to cases which ruled that PTSD is a medical diagnosis.
Plaintiffs countered by arguing the social worker had the requisite specialized clinical knowledge and advanced clinical skills that qualified him as an expert to diagnose the seaman with PTSD.
The court granted ARTCO’s motion to exclude the social worker’s PTSD diagnosis. The court found the social worker lacked both qualifications and specialized knowledge to give a PTSD diagnosis. The court’s review of the social worker’s resume revealed that the vast majority of his experience related to youth and educational counseling. Nothing in his resume suggested expertise in trauma work or PTSD.
So the court did not allow the social worker to give opinions at trial about PTSD or medical causation.
The decision can be viewed through the following publicly available link:
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