Old Case Shines Light On Malpractice Claims Against Custody Psychologists
Folks have been filing lawsuits against child custody psychologists for at least 20 years. In Pennsylvania, one such case involved outrageous accusations of falsified data. The lawsuit was filed in 2001 and involved allegations against a former spouse and the forensic psychologist who was hired to provide a recommendation to the court.
In this case, the wife filed for temporary custody of the children and the court ordered a conciliation conference. During the conference, the primary psychologist allowed a second psychologist to administer some of the tests. This individual was not licensed and was required to work directly under the supervision of the primary psychologist.
At the conclusion of the testing, the second psychologist announced her decision to find in favor of the wife. The husband was dissatisfied with this decision and decided to hire his own psychologist. The husband’s psychologist filed a motion to compel the first psychologist to turn over the treatment notes. However, the first psychologist refused to do so, even after a court order.
When the husband finally got the notes, he claimed that they had been adulterated from the original to make the notes more favorable toward the finding. In other words, he claimed the whole thing was nonsense and they were covering their hides. The court could not find convincing evidence of fraud and so a determination of joint custody was entered.
Suing the psychologist
While the plaintiff’s case was unsuccessful, it was important to challenge the immunity that state workers enjoy when executing their duties. This immunity applies to police officers as well. Today, police departments cough up a lot of money when they injure or kill a member of the public, and lawsuits against other civil servants can be filed on the same theory. Further, witnesses who testify on behalf of the government are immune from civil lawsuits.
Pennsylvania would make it almost impossible to file a lawsuit against a government functionary who was operating in the context of an official legal purpose. However, tinkering with treatment notes in order to sway the court against one of the participants falls outside the purview of their job. In other words, they can possibly be sued if they failed to implement a policy required by the department or acted outside the scope of their job.
The bottom line
The husband threw everything he could at the wife to get a finding of joint custody tossed in favor of a finding of primary custody for himself. You have to wonder why. Ultimately, had he been able to prove allegations of fraud, the case may have been resolved differently. But the court found that even amid those allegations, there was no cause of action against the expert psychologist. Hence, he lost his case.
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