Dr. Bruce Olson Outlines Psychological Methodology Used in Testing Victims of Fatal Crash, Leading to $123M Verdict
The Trial: Dinh, et al. v. Ride the Ducks, Int’l, et al., a 2018-19 Washington State Court trial over the duck boat crash that killed at least five people and left more than 60 people injured.
The Expert: Dr. Bruce Olson, a clinical psychologist based in Seattle, testifies for the plaintiff on the psychological injuries those who survived the crash suffered.
The Verdict: $123 million total verdict.
By Gary F. Gansar, MD, FACS; Senior Medical Director, AMFS
During a 2018-19 Seattle trial, over a duck boat crash that killed five people and injured more than 60, Dr. Bruce Olson, a clinical psychologist based in Seattle, testifies for the plaintiffs about the psychological injuries those who survived the crash suffered. Here he details the testing protocol he used when evaluating more than 20 of the injured, and the obstacles he had to overcome in developing tests that could yield consistent results.
Since the people involved in this accident were either international students or tourists from foreign countries, developing a standardized protocol to evaluate all of them presented a particular challenge to the doctor. It is rare for a psychologist to evaluate this many people about the same issue, especially when they are from so many different parts of the world. The challenge is to be able to present at trial, consistent information about each individual in this large group. There are no books to instruct an expert on how to approach this task, and Olson was not aware of any colleagues who had this sort of experience to give him advice. There are no English language tests, using interpreters, which would help these individuals to fully understand what they were being asked during interviews.
Therefore, the expert developed a system that would briefly test the verbal intelligence of the victims to get an idea if there were “gross deficits” in their intelligence. This test correlates very well with a much longer invasive test that may have traumatized the victims.
Another group of tests, the expert explains, would explore personality functioning, psychopathology symptoms or such things that would ordinarily be evaluated in psychological evaluations. Finally, Olson focused on trauma tests that would cover those symptoms that are generally manifested in those exposed to trauma. Having developed this multifaceted approach, the psychologist felt confident that his evaluation was standardized and comprehensive.
There were people from nine different countries victimized, but Olson stood behind this methodology for evaluating these people despite having no official guidance on how this should be done. The expert spent “an enormous amount of time” with these people, about 10-20 hours just clinically interviewing them, in addition to testing and evaluating their lives prior to, during, and after the traumatic event. Furthermore, he interviewed the victim’s relatives about the effect this trauma had on them. These opportunities allowed him to know more about this event than anyone.
The doctor’s testimony and testing was critical to the jury, who awarded a $123 million total verdict to the victims.
Gary Gansar, MD, is residency trained and Board Certified in General Surgery. He previously served as Chief of Surgery and Staff at Elmwood Medical Center and on the Medical Executive Committee at Mercy Hospital and Touro Infirmary in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Gansar also served as Clinical Instructor and Professor of Surgery at Tulane University. He received his MD and served as Chief Resident at Tulane University Medical School. Dr. Gansar joined AMFS as a consulting medical expert in 2011 and has served as Medical Director since Nov. 2015. In this capacity, Dr. Gansar provides consultation, review and guidance to attorney clients.