Asbestos exposure and psychic injury--a review of 48 claims.

I. N. Perr,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law 20(4): 383-93, 1992.
Asbestos exposure has been a common occupational risk resulting in much litigation. Where pulmonary dysfunction has been minimal or even absent, psychic injury has been made an element in claimed damages. Analysis of psychiatric and psychologic claims in 48 cases reveals that diagnoses often do not conform to professional standards, are based on insufficient data sampling, lack adequate overall history as well as medical history, and do not comport with the standard of probability usually required for litigation. The group studied was elderly (mean age--62.6), mostly retired (71%), with some significant medical illnesses (18% on medical retirement). None were retired for pulmonary reasons. As expected, conflict in opinion between the opposing professional medical participants was frequent. Commonly the patients did not substantiate the complaints reported in the medico-legal reports; some ridiculed statements made on their behalf. Many psychological reports reflected simplistic or erroneous concepts of medicine or ignored relevant medical data. This study indicates that in this group claims of psychic injury due to asbestos exposure have little justification and supports the view that the current system of utilization of expert opinions is not reliable or in conformity with reasonable professional standards. Correspondingly, these claims did not result in augmented awards.