Vanessa Bryant alleges that she “has suffered (and continues to suffer) severe emotional distress” due to leaked photos of her late husband’s helicopter crash. In pursuing the matter, however, Magistrate Judge Charles F. Eick ruled that Bryant and her therapist must produce documents going as far back as 2017. On its face, requesting therapy records, documentation of what occurs in a therapeutic, safe space sounds like a tremendous invasion of privacy. When a plaintiff (the individual bringing a lawsuit) demands millions for emotional distress, however, the rules change. A win in a psychiatric injury claim in a case, while potentially lucrative, may cost plaintiffs much more than time in court or attorney fees.
WHAT IS A PSYCHIC INJURY CLAIM?
A psychic injury claim is when a plaintiff claims that a defendant’s actions caused mental harm. In this case, Bryant alleges that the photos Los Angeles County leaked of her husband’s fatal helicopter crash caused her emotional distress. Bryant’s therapy records are considered substantive in determining what, if any, symptoms are new or have worsened. A determination must also be made as to whether the new or worsened symptoms are a direct result of the defendant’s actions. Though extremely sensitive and typically confidential, medical and mental health records frequently contain information that is helpful to the court process. Frequently in these cases, those with practical knowledge of mental health and patient care review these records and serve as expert consultants and/or witnesses. The journey through one’s past, breakthroughs, and suffering, must all be carefully translated into a coherent narrative that assists the finders of fact in the court process
HOW TO WIN A PSYCHIC INJURY CASE
If solid conclusions can be made a legal victory is possible but there is a price. As records are revealed, plaintiffs may very well have to relive painful experiences. Further, the exposure they are subjected to in this process can add another level of emotional distress. This would be true in any case but after a significant loss or injury, such a process can be all the more impactful.
A win in court may in fact provide resources that assist the plaintiff in recovering their quality of life and regaining a sense of agency after a traumatic experience. That said, potential plaintiffs should always be made aware that when psychiatric injury claims are made, the court delving into their psychological and social history, even dissecting their mental health treatment records, is a probability.