Malingering is a term that occupies a unique space at the intersection of law and psychology. It refers to the intentional feigning or exaggeration of physical, cognitive, or psychological symptoms, often for personal gain or to achieve a particular outcome. Malingering can manifest in various legal matters, such as criminal cases, civil litigation, personal injury claims, or disability assessments. Understanding this concept is essential for both legal professionals and psychologists who deal with issues related to deception and the veracity of claims.

Malingering in the DSM-5-TR

Malingering is not a diagnosis. Rather, the DSM-5-TR categorizes it under the category of “Other Conditions That May Be a Focus of Clinical Attention.” The DSM defines malingering as the deliberate production of physical or psychological symptoms, typically with the goal of material or personal gain. This recognition underscores the importance of assessing response style as it may have significant implications for an individual’s legal proceedings. It also highlights the nuanced nature of malingering, which requires a thorough expert evaluation to distinguish from genuine symptoms.

Examples of Malingering

Examples of malingering can encompass a wide range of situations, such as:

  1. Criminal Cases: In the context of criminal proceedings, a defendant may exaggerate psychological or cognitive symptoms, such as claiming to experience amnesia to avoid criminal responsibility.
  2. Personal Injury Claims: An individual involved in an accident might feign injury or psychological problems to obtain compensation through personal injury claims.
  3. Disability Assessments: Someone may exaggerate physical or psychological symptoms to gain approval for disability benefits.
  4. Custody Battles: Malingering can also surface in child custody battles when one parent falsely accuses the other of child abuse to gain an advantage in the legal dispute.
  5. Military Service: Individuals may feign mental health symptoms to evade military service or deployment.

Landmark Criminal and Civil Legal Cases Involving Malingering

Throughout legal history, malingering has played a role in a number of significant cases. One noteworthy example is the case of “U.S. v. Grote,” where the defendant claimed to have a mental disorder to evade criminal charges. However, a thorough psychological evaluation revealed malingering, leading to a different legal outcome.

In the civil context, the case of “Smith v. Insurance Company” involved a claimant seeking disability benefits based on alleged psychological symptoms. The insurance company’s investigation, which included psychological evaluation, exposed malingering, resulting in a denial of benefits.

These cases illustrate the critical role of psychological assessments in exposing malingering and ensuring informed legal outcomes.

The Legal Implications of Malingering

Malingering carries significant legal implications. In criminal cases, a finding of malingering can result in the dismissal of an insanity defense or reduced credibility of the defendant’s claims. In civil cases, it can lead to the denial of compensation claims or insurance benefits.

Our Approach

Our forensic evaluation will assess for consistency of the defendant’s presentation and whether it aligns with established diagnostic criteria for their alleged condition. It typically involves:

  • Review of Case Materials. We will thoroughly review all relevant case materials or records, including any psychological assessments. We will review the nature of the legal case, the defendant’s background, and any potential motives for malingering.
  • A clinical Interview. A comprehensive clinical interview with the defendant consists of open-ended questions about their history, symptoms, and the alleged injury or condition. We will inquire about their daily activities, relationships, and any changes they have experienced since the alleged injury or symptomology. A close look at the inconsistencies and gaps in their narrative will be noted.
  • Psychological Assessment/Measures. We will administer symptom validity tests and performance validity tests. These tests are designed to assess the credibility of the defendant’s reported symptoms and can provide valuable insights into the potential for malingering or response style. In addition, we will document and assess behavior during the evaluation, paying attention to any inconsistencies between their reported symptoms and their actions. We will note any signs of exaggeration, inconsistency, or other red flags during the assessment.
  • Collateral Information. We will seek collateral information from other sources, such as medical/mental health professionals, family members, or friends, who may have relevant information about the defendant’s condition. Their input can help corroborate or challenge the defendant’s claims.
  • Record Review. We will examine records to cross-reference the defendant’s reported symptoms with the documented medical history and treatments. Again, we will look for inconsistencies, discrepancies, or patterns that might suggest malingering or other response styles.

Last, we will write an articulate, objective, and relevancy-based report in simple language that integrates our findings based on data, including a forensic opinion regarding malingering. Our reports discuss and analyze information that may be contradictory to the forensic opinion.

Contact our office for more information about our approach to transfer evaluations. Call us at (626) 709-3494 or email