Vanderbilt Law Review


Hubert W. Smith

First Page



Trial lawyers are well aware that fully 50 to 60% of all civil litigation involves some claim of physical or psychic disability. Purely physical disabilities are extremely difficult to evaluate but when the allegedly disabling symptoms are of psychic origin, wholly or in part, legal tribunals require the most competent illumination the mental sciences can provide if error and imposition are to be minimized. The purpose of the present presentation is not to impugn the mental sciences but rather to ask whether any astringent principles exist for shrinking extravagant testimony. The intelligent counsel does not aspire to annihilate and atomize every neuropsychiatric witness. Some of these gentlemen are too learned and careful and veracious to be deeply eroded, much less exploded, by astute cross-examination. But unfortunately, the supply of real experts in the mental sciences is so small, and the testimonial need is so great, that quasi- and pseudo-experts are all too likely to gain entrance to the witness box. It is essential that the defendant's lawyer be armed aforehand with certain basic knowledge of mental sciences so that he may use cross examination more effectively to expose extravagant claims.