Claiming the Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege Under Alabama Law When a Plaintiff in a Civil Case Seeks Mental Anguish Damages

Authors: Terrence W. McCarthy & Logan T. Matthews

Excerpt:

          For a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit, there has been a longstanding debate in many jurisdictions about whether a claim asserting mental anguish damages should serve as a waiver of the psychotherapist-patient privilege or whether a defendant should be entitled to discover and introduce evidence of the plaintiff-patient’s confidential communications with a psychotherapist at trial.  Although courts around the country have differing views on this issue, Alabama law is clear: filing a civil lawsuit that seeks mental anguish damages, standing alone, does not serve as a waiver of the psychotherapist-patient privilege.

            The soundness of this rule is the subject of frequent debate, and there are valid arguments on both sides.  On the one hand, if a defendant is not entitled to discover such evidence or introduce it at trial, a defendant may be hamstrung to dispute that its conduct was a contributing cause to the plaintiff’s alleged mental anguish.  For example, suppose a plaintiff has suffered from life-long depression.  In that case, it may be helpful for a defendant to know about the plaintiff’s mental health evaluations or psychotherapist treatment records which precede the lawsuit-triggering event to dispute that the defendant’s conduct was the real cause of the plaintiff’s mental anguish.  On the other hand, if communications between a patient and her psychotherapist are not privileged, a patient may not have the same candor with her psychotherapist, and a psychotherapist may be unable to provide the treatment necessary to relieve a plaintiff-patient of her mental anguish.  Balancing these interests is at the heart of Alabama’s law on the psychotherapist-patient privilege.

            To date, Alabama courts have found that the balance between these competing interests weighs against disclosure when all that is in play is a civil plaintiff suing for mental anguish damages.  But, Alabama courts have found that the balance tips in favor of disclosure in certain cases, typically where an overriding interest is at play.  For example, the mental condition of a parent in a child custody dispute, a defendant’s mental state in an involuntary commitment proceeding, or when the plaintiff has waived her right to claim the privilege.

            This Article discusses the background and general scope of Alabama’s psychotherapist-patient privilege.  Then, it describes what the privilege does not cover.  Next, the Article explains ways plaintiffs can waive the privilege.  To illustrate these waiver concepts, this Article walks through five situations that may arise in a civil lawsuit and discusses how claims of psychotherapist-patient privilege might be analyzed.

Closing the Deal: Principles of Closing Argument Grounded in Empirical Studies and Lessons of the Masters

Author: Harry Mitchell Caldwell

Excerpt:

A sound closing argument can indeed close the deal.  A well-executed argument pulls together the evidence in a compelling, persuasive, and successful statement.  Conversely, a closing argument that pontificates and opines, rehashes testimony, or continues ad nauseam, fails to engage the jury and has a diminished chance of success.  There are scores of lawyers trying cases; there are far fewer who lift trial advocacy to an art.  It is to that lofty plane that this Article is dedicated.

Drawing on empirical data studying audience responsiveness, retention, and persuasiveness coupled with excerpts from master trial lawyers, advocates have learned valuable lessons.  The lessons include respecting the collective intelligence of the jury by reasoning with them rather than pontificating at them, sounding themes favoring the advocate’s case, using stories and anecdotes as clarifiers, creating a list to organize critical evidence, studying and responding to juror body language, mitigating harmful evidence, and avoiding wordiness.

Covid-19 Litigation: How has the Pandemic Affected Jurors’ Values Moving Forward?

Photo Credit: https://www.canadianunderwriter.ca/insurance/what-could-happen-to-your-jury-notice-under-rules-of-simplified-procedure-during-covid-1004205308/ (last visited February 1, 2022).

Authored By: John Tully

Articles Editor, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

          In January 2020, our world as we knew it changed forever as the inconceivable happened: a global pandemic emerged.  As we have all seen, Covid-19 has changed a number of ways in which the world works: the capability to effectively work from home, mask and vaccine requirements, and even the way that people will view the world going forward.[i]  However, Covid-19 has also drastically changed the legal landscape. Continue reading “Covid-19 Litigation: How has the Pandemic Affected Jurors’ Values Moving Forward?”

Purdue Pharma and the Opioid Crisis

Photo Credit: https://www.aacom.org/reports-programs-initiatives/aacom-initiatives/tackling-the-opioid-epidemic (last visited: Jan. 23, 2022).

Authored By: Cecile Nicolson

Editor in Chief, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

          From April 2020 to April 2021, it is estimated that 75,673 people died from opioid overdose, an increase of almost 20,000 from the year before.[1]  The current opioid crisis began in the mid-1990s when the pharmaceutical industry began marketing opioids to primary-care physicians as a form of pain management. Continue reading “Purdue Pharma and the Opioid Crisis”

COVID-19 Vaccine Injuries- If You are Injured by a COVID-19 Vaccine, Can You Sue for Damages?

Photo Credit: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/covid-coronavirus-vaccine-development-speed (last visited Jan. 13, 2022).

Authored By: Anna Alyce Eastburn

Research and Writing Editor, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

          Vaccines are one of the most successful public health tools in preventing and protecting against vaccine-preventable diseases.[i]  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the immunization of each U.S. child with the current childhood immunization schedule prevents approximately 42,000 deaths and 20 million cases of disease, with a net savings of nearly $14 billion in direct costs and $69 billion in total societal costs.[ii]  Despite vaccines being the best defense against vaccine-preventable diseases, no vaccine is 100% safe or effective. Continue reading “COVID-19 Vaccine Injuries- If You are Injured by a COVID-19 Vaccine, Can You Sue for Damages?”

Can Injured Employees Receive Compensation Through Their Employers for Medical Marijuana Treatment?

Photo Credit: https://www.staplesellislaw.com/personal-injury/can-i-sue-following-a-workplace-injury-in-florida/ (last visited: Dec. 30, 2021).

Authored By: Ken Thompson

Member, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

          Minnesota recently addressed a question many medical marijuana patients have throughout the country with respect to their treatments: is treatment for a workplace accident covered by our employers?  On one hand, Minnesota legalized cannabis both recreationally and medicinally and, on the other, Federal Law still recognizes cannabis as a controlled substance.[i]  Such a question also holds pertinent questions for employers looking to find a cost efficient and productive form of treatment for its workers: if we provide medicines that are illegal at the federal level, are we aiding and abetting the use of a controlled substance so as to give rise to liability? Continue reading “Can Injured Employees Receive Compensation Through Their Employers for Medical Marijuana Treatment?”

Medicaid: Why Alabama Needs to Expand

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/vectors/medical-hospital-icons-doctor-4510408/ (last visited Dec. 16, 2021).

Authored By: Mickala Lewis

Research and Writing Editor, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

          Medicaid is a public health insurance program for individuals with low income in the United States.[1]  Since April 2021, Medicaid has provided healthcare coverage for over 75 million Americans, 751,960 of which are Alabamians.[2]  The program was created in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Title XIX of the Social Security Act into law.[3] Originally, Medicaid did not provide coverage to all low income individuals.[4]  Rather, eligibility was limited to individuals with low income who also fell into one of the following categories: children, pregnant women, elderly, or disabled.[5]  Over time, Congress expanded the program to offer more benefits and provide coverage to more people. Continue reading “Medicaid: Why Alabama Needs to Expand”

Standards Must Change: Fake News, Defamation, and Free Speech

Photo Credit: https://beconnected.esafety.gov.au/quick-reads/how-to-spot-fake-news (last visited December 14, 2021).

Authored By: Hunter Milliman

Member, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

          The right to freedom of speech and press enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution has been a cornerstone of American society for over two centuries.  This right is undeniably crucial for a healthy, robust democratic system fueled by contrary ideas and civil discourse, but what happens when the expansion of those rights beyond the intent of the Founders leads to fake news and uncivil discourse? Continue reading “Standards Must Change: Fake News, Defamation, and Free Speech”

Social Security: Reform or Runout

Photo Credit: https://austincountynewsonline.com/wont-believe-governments-solution-fix-social-security/ (last visited on December 9, 2021).

Authored By: Claire Young

Member, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

          Picture this: You’ve worked hard at whatever job of your choosing and now its payday. Those hours spent hustling will—should—translate into instant money your pocket.  However, upon looking at the breakdown of your compensation, you notice that your bottom-line figure has been reduced by a “Social Security Tax” totaling 6.2% of your pre-tax income. Continue reading “Social Security: Reform or Runout”

Intellectual Property and the Rising Popularity of NFTs: The Legal Issues Embedded in Non-Fungible Tokens

Photo Credit: https://www.fiverr.com/sailorshi/create-nft-crypto-art (last visited Nov. 3, 2021).

Authored By: Kristen Strickland

Executive Research & Writing Editor, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

          In the past year, interest in non-fungible tokens (NFTs) has skyrocketed.  One headline-grabbing case involved an NFT of a digital art collage made from 5,000 individual images created by the artist Beeple that sold for $69.3 million in 2021.[1]  Now, other artists, celebrities, and businesses are joining the NFT craze. Continue reading “Intellectual Property and the Rising Popularity of NFTs: The Legal Issues Embedded in Non-Fungible Tokens”