Psychology Expert Witness Testimony Not Allowed in Suicide Case

Plaintiff sued the defendant after her husband committed suicide.  Plaintiff hired a Psychology Expert Witness to provide testimony.  Defendant filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.  The court granted the motion to exclude.

Facts:  This case (Lera Schulze v. United States of America – United States District Court – Northern District of Oklahoma – April 1st, 2019) involves claim filed by the plaintiff for the wrongful death of her husband.  The plaintiff’s husband reported suicidal thoughts to a nurse practitioner and was brought to a VA hospital.  The VA hospital discharged him two hours later.  Two days later the plaintiff’s husband died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  The plaintiff alleges that the defendant breached the standard of care by releasing her husband rather than admitting him for an extended mental health evaluation.  The plaintiff also retained Psychology Expert Witness Dr. Gary A. Rouse to opine as to whether the plaintiff’s husband was given the applicable standard of care.  The defendant has filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  Dr. Rouse opines that the VA failed in their treatment of the plaintiff’s husband and should be responsible for this failure, which resulted in him taking his own life.  The defendant does not challenge Dr. Rouse’s qualifications, but does argue that Dr. Rouse’s methods and reliability should be subject to scrutiny.  Dr. Rouse testified that he based his opinions on his experience as a clinical psychologist.  The plaintiff argues that Dr. Rouse’s opinions are reliable because he has over thirty-five years of experience as a practicing clinical psychologist.  In addition, Dr. Rouse provides disability opinions for veterans which constitutes 90% of his practice.

Dr. Rouse opines that the defendant failed in their treatment of the plaintiff’s husband because in his thirty-sex years of practice he has never had a patient that had requested hospitalization for suicidal ideation, who was treated and released in the same day, much less within a two-hour period.  Dr. Rouse testified that the VA should have kept the plaintiff’s husband for at least thirty hours, as this gives potentially suicidal individuals a cooling down period.

The court opines that Dr. Rouse admitted that he was unaware of any emergency room standard for how long a patient should be kept in the emergency room who is not expressing suicidal intent.  In addition, the court also opines that Dr. Rouse stated that his opinion was not based on any study or research and that he was unaware of any evidence that supported his opinions.  Also, the court notes that Dr. Rouse stated that assessment of suicide risk is not an exact science and that risk factors vary among individuals.  Last, the court opines that Dr. Rouse did not explain how his experience led to his conclusions.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Dr. Gary A. Rouse is granted.