A Primer on PTSD and Personal Injury Claims: Part II

January 25 2019 | Blog
  • In the second part of our primer on PTSD, we explain what some common symptoms of the disorder are and how a PTSD claim can be successfully proven in the courtroom.

    In our previous article in this two-part primer, we noted that millions of Americans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder every year. We also explained how the perception of this disorder has changed throughout the past century. In this second part, we will explore the symptoms of PTSD as established by current medical knowledge. We will also provide important information for those who are suffering from PTSD as a result of an accident who would like to obtain financial compensation for it.


    Symptoms, Signs, and Diagnosis of PTSD

    Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur in people who experienced or witnessed a wide range of traumatic events such as natural disasters, a serious accident, a terrorist act or a violent personal assault. However, it is important to note that such an event doesn’t necessarily have to entail danger to a person – for example, the sudden death of a loved one can cause PTSD as well. Even though not every person subjected to a trauma will develop the disorder, psychiatrists and psychologists consider a traumatic experience a crucial factor when diagnosing someone with PTSD. In addition, to warrant a PTSD diagnosis, symptoms must last more than a month and cause considerable interference with a person’s social or professional life.

    PTSD can have two forms – acute (or short-term) and chronic (or ongoing). Symptoms can occur as early as 3 months after the traumatic event but can also present themselves much later – in some cases, even years after the initial trauma. In most cases, a person must experience the symptoms for at least 1 month in order to be diagnosed with PTSD. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), the symptoms can be grouped into four categories:

    • Re-experiencing symptoms – these can include flashback, intrusive thoughts, involuntary memories, or bad dreams. The common denominator of re-experiencing symptoms is that they make a person involuntarily relive the traumatic event. The symptoms may stem for a person’s own thoughts and feelings or be triggered by an external factor such as a word, an object, or a situation.


    • Avoidance symptoms – include avoiding people, places, situations, actions, objects, etc. that can remind a person of the traumatic event.
    • Arousal and reactivity symptoms – are related to a person’s emotional reactions and may include having angry outbursts, having difficulty controlling emotions, feeling on edge, and sleeping disorders. In contrast to re-experiencing symptoms, arousal and reactivity symptoms are not triggered by any internal or external factor but rather are constant.
    • Cognition and mood symptoms – similar to arousal and reactivity symptoms, these are related to feelings and emotional states. However, they describe different kinds of feelings such as distorted feelings of guilt, negative thoughts about oneself and the world or loss of interest in enjoyable activities. Cognition symptoms may also refer to having trouble remembering key information about the trauma.


    It is important to note that most people who have experienced a trauma will – to some extent – show one or more of the symptoms described above. Only a qualified medical doctor – such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist – can authoritatively assess the symptoms and diagnose a person with PTSD. Having a diagnosis from a medical professional is especially important if a PTSD is a part of a reason for a personal injury lawsuit and a claim for financial compensation.


    PTSD in the Courtroom

    In order to make a successful PTSD claim as a part of a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must be able to prove the following:

    • He or she is currently suffering from PTSD as diagnosed by a qualified medical doctor
    • The plaintiff’s PTSD occurred as a result of an accident caused by negligence or recklessness on the part of the defendant
    • The plaintiff’s PTSD is severely negatively affecting his or her personal and/or professional life

    Successfully proving these factors usually requires testimony from both an expert witness and a fact witnesses.

    An expert witness is a qualified medical professional – for example, a psychiatrist or a psychologist – whose role is to present the jury with the medical information about PTSD. Such information may include what the symptoms of the disorder are or how PTSD is diagnosed. An expert witness doesn’t necessarily have to testify that the plaintiff is indeed suffering from the disorder. Fact witnesses, however, should be able to give a testimony about the plaintiff, their behavior, the symptoms they experience, etc. On the basis of the testimonies of both an expert witness and fact witnesses, a jury is then able to decide whether a PTSD claim in a personal injury lawsuit is valid or not.

    The validity of a PTSD claim may greatly affect damages, or financial compensation, a plaintiff will be able to receive in a personal injury lawsuit. In most cases, a plaintiff can claim compensation for medical expenses related to the accident. In PTSD-related claims, a plaintiff can also claim compensation for ongoing medical attention he or she needs. Other damages may include lost wages and compensation for emotional distress. If you or a family member is suffering from PTSD as a result of an accident caused by another person, it may be helpful to talk to a personal injury lawyer about your legal options.


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