Evidence required to Establish a Psychological Claim

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I agree with Mr Kaufan in that, and I can say this from experience, many people are unwilling to admit that there is anything wrong with them psychologically. They may consider their psychological symptoms as a sign of weakness and simply do not want to delve into their past or have someone  trawl through their medical notes and records. In this day and age it is no longer unusual for people to have entries in their medical notes relating to symptoms of a psychological nature. However, it continues to have a stigma attached for which many clients are simply unwilling to explore.

If I have an indication that one of my clients may be suffering from psychological effects of an accident either due to the accident itself or the consequential injuries I find it helps to explain, very early on, that such symptoms and reactions are not in fact abnormal but are quite common practice following an accident.

I concur with Mr Kaufan in that many people feel the need to put on a "brave face" to family and friends or even to their GP or myself as their legal representative. I think it is the nature of our society that there is a reluctance to discuss matters regarded as personal, especially those of a relationship or sexual nature.

It is very important to obtain evidence in support of psychological injuries sooner rather than later and not wait to obtain medical evidence in respect of the physical injuries and save the psychological evidence till last. Within his article Mr Kaufan stressed the importance of interviewing relatives or close friends and obtaining witness statements from them early on which can be updated as the claim or the injuries develop. Highly valuable information can be obtained from a relative or close friend who has known the person injured both before and after the accident. Due to the close relationship between the relative or close friend and the injured party it can sometimes be difficult to source the information required from them as they often find it hard to explain or describe how the injured family has altered for the worse in temperament and personality. The longer you leave it to discuss these important issues with the relative or close friend the higher the risk that they may have adapted to the changes in the injured party and have forgotten what they were like before hand. Also after a period of time the relative and close friend may have learned to adapt their own behaviour around the injured party so as to avoid psychological reactions, for example they may have learned or trained themselves to sensor what they say to the injured party knowing that certain comments or references could lead to a loss of temper and an adverse reaction. It is understandable that they may be somewhat reluctant to, in effect, criticise the injured party and to describe someone who was previously pleasant and easy going as someone now moody, irritable and depressed.  This can be overcome but obtaining statements in confidence and obtaining agreement that the injured person will not see them.

It is not only witness statements from friends and family that can assist in developing a claim for psychological injuries but also work colleagues. If an injured party has been involved in a workplace accident a useful source of information would be a colleague albeit, this is sometimes very difficult to obtain if the claim is against a current employer. I have experienced first hand speaking to a workplace colleague over the telephone and taking a very helpful witness statement only for that colleague then to have cold feet and refuse to sign the statement or be involved any further in the claim because they were worried about their own employment. This is of course an understandable reaction and it is very important to establish who will see the witness statement before formally taking the statement from the workplace colleague and asking them to sign it.

A workplace colleague is likely to be in a good position to comment on the injured party as to how they have changed since the accident in their role at work and whether they are able to cope. It is not uncommon for people to have a workplace persona yet be completely different in a home environment. Obtaining witness statements from work colleagues and as well as friends and family may highlight a complete change of character for someone who is struggling to cope with psychological symptoms and it is only when they are in the comfort of their own home, and to a certain degree relaxed, do these symptoms become apparent.

In respect of children, obtaining information from their teacher is most helpful as they are likely to notice post accident changes in classroom behaviour as well as their academic performance in school.

Once such statements have been obtained you are more likely to be in a position to understand and appreciate the psychological symptoms arising out of an accident and be in a position to instruct a suitable medical expert sooner rather than later.

I briefly touched at the beginning of this article that psychological or psychiatric reports should be requested not as last in line of a series of medical reports but along side such experts reviewing and reporting on physical symptoms. It seems sensible to obtain a psychological opinion in conjunction with other medical reports where all examiners have the opportunity of examining and reporting on the injured party around the same time and at a similar stage in their recovery.

The next question is then who to instruct? I must admit that I am sometimes unsure of who to refer my clients to whether it be a psychologist or psychiatrist. It is now widely accepted that if an assessment for potential treatment is required then a psychologist should be instructed contrasted with recommendations for medication whereas psychiatrists would be instructed. Due to the specific expertise required of such experts I often find it more helpful than not to discuss with colleagues suitable experts rather than rely solely on nominations provided by medical agencies.  Due to the specialised nature of their work, and given clients are expected to take part in a lengthy discussion regarding their past, present and future, having good contacts with experts is essential.

I agree with Mr Kaufan's conclusion that in cases involving a psychological injury, a well prepared psychological or psychiatric report should help in providing reasons why different individuals react in the way they do, especially in those instances where the response to the event exceeds the severity of the trauma itself, which understandably defendants may question, if not challenge, and that this is yet another reason for obtaining such a report early on in the proceedings.

Karen Thompson

Legal Executive - Personal Injury team 

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