Government seeks mental exams of young plaintiffs suing over tainted water illnesses
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The U.S. government wants mental and physical examinations of Red Hill families who are suing over claims of long-term illnesses, HNN Investigates has learned.
And the plaintiffs’ lawyers say they don’t want a psychologist seeing young children alone.
The families claim long-term illnesses from the Navy’s Red Hill fuel spills in 2021, which tainted the tap water and sickened thousands of people.
Lawyers say they’re not against physical and mental examinations of their clients. What they do find troubling: Solo exams of four of the plaintiffs, who are 5 to 6 years old, and the potential length of time.
“Never once did I ask for the deposition of a kid nor for an examination of a child. You just don’t do that,” said Kristina Baehr, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
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According to court documents, the U.S. government wants the first five plaintiff families in the lawsuit to undergo “physical and psychological examination” for up to two days or 16 hours.
For the mental exam, parents would go first and then the child would be examined with a parent present. Lastly, the child would be examined alone.
In the government’s court filings seeking the exams, licensed clinical and forensic psychologist Eric S. Smith wrote “independent medical examinations of minors are appropriate and necessary.”
He said the minor plaintiffs each “allege unique psychological and emotional injuries” such as “anxiety, depression, and developmental delays.”
But Baehr claims the government is trying to get her clients to quit.
“How would you feel subjecting your 5-year-old to an examination of a representative of the government that poisoned your family without a parent in the room,” she asked.
The government’s psychologist, meanwhile, says a mental examination of a child is needed. “Minors are susceptible to persuasion from third parties — particularly their guardians,” wrote Smith.
“It is essential to speak with and examine the minor alone,” he added.
A federal judge will decide how doctors, psychologists, and toxicologists can conduct the exams. The trial is scheduled for March 2024.
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