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Are You Exaggerating?

March 22, 2019

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<p style="text-align: justify;">The New Jersey Supreme Court recently reversed the categorical ban on the use of certain medical terminology during trial.  Specifically, in <em><a href="">Rodriguez v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.</a></em>, the Court grappled with the use of the terms somatization and symptom magnification during trial.  The case arose from an incident at Wal-Mart that allegedly caused plaintiff to suffer a wrist injury.  She sought treatment and eventually had surgery, but she still complained of pain in her wrist.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">At trial, defense counsel produced two expert witnesses who opined that plaintiff was somaticizing in response to plaintiff’s experts who opined that plaintiff was suffering from Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome.  Somatization is “the production of recurrent and multiple medical symptoms with no discernible organic cause”.  One of the defendant’s experts also opined that plaintiff was magnifying her symptoms.  Symptom magnification is the reporting of a symptom that seems to be excessive compared to what should be reported in a given situation for most individuals.  The trial judge allowed the testimony and the jury returned a defense verdict.  Plaintiff appealed prompting the Appellate Division to impose a categorical ban on the terms somatization and symptom magnification since those terms, according to the Appellate Division, implied that a plaintiff was a malingerer, someone who exaggerates or outright feigns an illness or condition.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed.  It concluded somatization and symptom magnification are medical terms that may be relevant in a specific case.  The terms are not unduly prejudicial since they are not defined as involving dishonesty for financial gain.  The Supreme Court tasked the courts with determining whether use of the terms are relevant and not unduly prejudicial while tasking the jury with determining credibility issues.  Accordingly, this case illustrates parties can continue to use these terms, so long as they establish their relevance, as well as no prejudice will be suffered.</p>
Thanks to Michael Noblett for his contribution to this post. Please email Colleen Hayes with any questions at <a href=""></a>


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