An evaluation on my calendar makes me a bit anxious about the possibility of an ethics complaint or a malpractice suit down the road. Accordingly, I'll make extra efforts to be conservative in my opinions, dot every i, cross every t and document, document, document.
The suspected condition of the party being referred, along with reports of the party's behavior at work, lead me to believe they will not take kindly to findings adverse to the cause that brings them to me. I've taken a couple of additional measures to insulate myself, but nothing is foolproof.
I also took the precaution of exploring any history of lawsuits filed by this party and found nothing. If the person undergoing the evaluation had a history of filing lawsuits, I would have declined the case.
Researching legal history isn't something I typically do when accepting a referral for evaluation, but, over the years, I have checked a few times when I sensed an elevated risk to my practice. I never do a legal check of psychotherapy referrals, because I don't render opinions adverse to the explicit cause of the person seeking treatment. Psychotherapy patients see me as an ally, while those referred for evaluations typically see me as an ally of a third-party that employs me to render an opinion that may be unfavorable to their interests.
Fortunately, I've never been sued and never faced an ethics complaint. Psychologists are at relatively low risk for malpractice suits and complaints, but one area of practice, child custody evaluations, can raise risk-levels significantly.
Divorce can be life-shattering, and ordinarily sane people can get crazy during divorces proceedings. The involvement of minor children further ups the ante. I'm not up-to-date on the relevant laws because I don't conduct custody evals, but I know some states have passed legislation granting unqualified immunity to psychological evaluators appointed by the court. The immunity is identical to the immunity enjoyed by judges and prosecutors, but that doesn't mean an ethics complaint can't be filed with the licensing board. Although an ethics complaint can lead to a finding that clears the evaluator of wrongdoing, an accumulation of these cases can increase malpractice insurance rates. Besides, dealing with these complaints could be time-consuming and very stressful.
In a 2005 article, Terrence Koller (Illinois psychologist) discussed ways to protect court-appointed psychological evaluators from frivolous suits, while also protecting the rights of consumers with potentially legitimate claims of harm. Subsequent to the publication of that article, there was an Illinois court case against a psychiatric evaluator in which the court concluded that as a court-appointed evaluator, the psychiatrist was an officer of the court, and therefore enjoyed immunity from suit.
The person suing the evaluator was found to suffer from a psychological condition that would typically bar legal custody. It's also a condition that made me suspect that other professionals who do business with this person might be at elevated risk for ethics complaints and malpractice suits, so I did a little digging. I found a boatload of lawsuits dating back 30 years. If you hold an Illinois professional license of any kind and did business with this person, you may have been sued. Little doubt this person also filed some ethics complaints, but the record of those complaints wouldn't be public unless there was a finding of misconduct by the licensees and, in any case, the complaining party is always given anonymity, regardless of the outcome of the case.
I haven't named the case or the person because they're so litigious, I'd fear being sued. Even though the blog is private right now, I may open it again in the future, and I don't want to take a chance over a blog post. Needless to say, if this person were ever to seek my services, I'd politely decline and refer them to a major hospital outpatient program with an army of lawyers to back the clinician.