Mental Distress Claims and Independent Medical Evaluations

Mental Distress Claims and Independent Medical Evaluations

A recent high-profile case in Nevada is testing the rules regarding when a plaintiff seeking recovery for physical and emotional symptoms must undergo evaluations when requested by defendants, regardless of when those requests are made.

Plaintiff, Ryan Q. Claridge, an ex-linebacker for the New England Patriots, filed suit against Defendant, Stryker Corporation after an implanted pain-pump, manufactured by Stryker, allegedly destroyed the cartilage in his shoulder and failed to provide the intended relief. Stryker requested that Mr. Claridge undergo neurological and psychological evaluations.  Mr. Claridge argues that the exams are unnecessary and that Stryker has obtained all information regarding his claimed injuries already through discovery.  Mr. Claridge is also arguing that Stryker has had all of his medical records for over a year, and that it is therefore untimely, unduly burdensome, and unnecessary for him to now submit to additional testing.

Although Mr. Claridge’s complaint did include a claim for “mental distress,” he now argues that this claim is merely “garden variety” mental distress stemming from his injuries and his inability to play football; it is not a mental condition in controversy for which a psychological evaluation would be appropriate.  There is no claim for negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress included in Mr. Claridge’s complaint.

Pursuant to the Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure, “The court where the action is pending may order a party whose mental or physical condition–including blood group–is in controversy to submit to a physical or mental examination by a suitably licensed or certified examiner.” Nev. R. Civ. P. 35(a)(1).  Such order, “may be made only on motion for good cause.” Nev. R. Civ. P. 35(a)(2).  Nevada trial courts, “are afforded reasonable discretion in controlling the conduct of discovery and its decisions are reversed only where a clear abuse appears.” Diversified Capital Corp. v. City of North Las Vegas (1979) 95 Nev. 15, 23.

In challenging Stryker’s right to independent evaluations, Mr. Claridge should keep in mind that the scope of discovery as codified in Nevada law is quite broad.  Parties in civil actions are entitled to, “obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claims or defenses and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to relevant information, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.”  Nev. R. Civ. P. 26.

If Mr. Claridge wishes to avoid a psychological evaluation, his best bet may be to stipulate that he will not raise claims regarding a mental health condition during trial.  However, in the absence of such stipulation, it would not be surprising if the Court ultimately rules in Stryker’s favor and orders Mr. Claridge to submit to the requested medical examinations.  Mr. Claridge put his physical and mental health at issue when he filed his claim against Stryker; despite the length of time since the exchange of written discovery, there is no reason to assume that there is no good-faith justification for Stryker’s requests for examinations.

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