How to Sue for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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 Can You Sue for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”)?

Post traumatic stress disorder is commonly referred to shorthand as “PTSD.” PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can present in people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. Such events could include:

  • Natural disasters, such as fires and hurricanes;
  • Serious accidents;
  • Terrorist attacks;
  • War and/or combat;
  • Rape and/or abuse; and/or
  • Being threatened with death, sexual violence, or serious injury.

Those who have PTSD can experience:

  • Flashbacks and/or nightmares;
  • Intense and/or disturbing thoughts as well as feelings;
  • Feelings of sadness, fear, and anger; and
  • Strong negative reactions to certain triggers.

As many as 8% of the US population live with PTSD symptoms. Those who have been struggling with psychological or social consequences in the aftermath of a traumatic incident may find that a medical diagnosis uncovers PTSD. After a person has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, they may be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the person who caused them to develop the disorder. 

It is important to note that while being diagnosed with PTSD requires an initial traumatic event, that event does not necessarily need to be experienced firsthand. What this means is that PTSD may manifest in a person after hearing that a close family member has died.

How to Succeed with a PTSD Lawsuit

While suing for PTSD will not erase the harm caused, it can relieve some of the financial burden of living with the condition. There are therapy and medication costs to consider, as well as potential time missed from work.

In order to have a successful PTSD lawsuit, the plaintiff must meet all elements of proof for proving PTSD. If someone’s recklessness or negligence caused the plaintiff to develop PTSD, the focus in the lawsuit will likely be on expert testimony. The plaintiff’s attorney may invite an expert witness, such as a psychiatrist, to testify about and convince the court as to the following:

  • Injury: You suffered some psychological injury, as shown by various symptoms. The best way to prove injury would be to obtain a diagnosis from a medical professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist;
  • Causation: A specific traumatic event triggered that mental or emotional injury. In terms of a lawsuit, you will want to provide as much evidence as possible that a specific traumatic event is responsible for the diagnosis; and
  • Recoverable Damages: As previously mentioned, you should attempt to recover damages for the cost associated with PTSD diagnosis and treatment. Courts will generally be more willing to award damages if those damages are quantifiable and tangible.

One of the biggest challenges in a PTSD lawsuit generally stems from the “battle of experts.” Opposing experts are likely to argue that PTSD can only be triggered by some enormous traumatic events, such as those related to wars and natural disasters. The jury will be responsible for deciding if the plaintiff’s PTSD claims are genuine. Evidence that can be used for support include medical records, as well as witness testimony.

PTSD and Claims for Emotional Distress

PTSD and claims for emotional distress, while similar, do have their differences. While PTSD has a list of specific symptoms, mental anguish and emotional distress typically do not. Some examples of what could constitute emotional distress include:

  • Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia;
  • Anxiety, depression, and/or fear;
  • Humiliation; and
  • Grief.

Suing for PTSD as the basis for an emotional distress claim will utilize the personal injury legal theory.  In such cases, the plaintiff must prove to the court that their extreme feelings, such as those mentioned above, have caused long-lasting or permanent negative effects.

Some examples of genuine emotional distress claims include:

  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: This is a tort defined as one person acting outrageously while intending to cause another person to suffer severe emotional distress. An example of this would be threatening future harm; or
  • Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress: This is a tort defined as causing severe emotional distress through negligent action. If a plaintiff wishes to claim negligent infliction of emotional distress, they must have experienced contact resulting from the defendant’s negligence. However, they may have been within the zone of danger in order to assert a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim.

What Are Some Implications of PTSD Diagnosis for Other Legal Matters?

A PTSD diagnosis could have implications for a variety of legal matters, both civil and criminal. In civil cases, in addition to bringing a personal injury lawsuit, PTSD may support claims against employers under American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) for failing to accommodate an employee’s PTSD. For the same reason, PTSD could support Workers’ Compensation claims.

In terms of criminal cases, because post-traumatic stress disorder is classified as a mental condition, it may be applicable as a criminal defense or a mitigating circumstance. A PTSD diagnosis may be a basis for the following defenses:

  • “Battered woman” or “rape trauma” syndrome;
  • Partial defense of diminished capacity; and/or
  • Complete defense of insanity.

Having PTSD can qualify a person for disability benefits. In order to claim those benefits, medical records must prove that the claimant suffers from at least one of the following criteria:

  • Remembers a traumatic experience;
  • Experiences recurring obsessions or compulsions;
  • Irrational fear of a situation, object, or activity leading to avoidance;
  • Severe panic attacks at least once per week; and/or
  • A diagnosis of generalized persistent anxiety.

Additionally, the claimant must show at least two of these symptoms:

  • Restricted normal daily activities;
  • Difficulty maintaining social functioning;
  • Difficulty maintaining concentration, persistence, and/or pace; and/or
  • Repeated decompensation or psychiatric symptoms lasting a considerable amount of time.

How Much Compensation Can You Claim for a PTSD Lawsuit?

Compensation for a PTSD lawsuit will likely resemble compensation for other personal injury lawsuits. This would consist of compensatory damages meant to reimburse the plaintiff for losses suffered as a result of the defendant’s actions or negligence. When calculating damages for PTSD, the court will consider the following:

  • Severity of injuries;
  • Lost wages, and/or decreased earning capacity;
  • Pain and suffering, when applicable;
  • Punitive damages in especially egregious cases; and
  • Whether the plaintiff’s insurance will cover any or all of the costs associated with PTSD.

Sixty percent of plaintiffs receive some sort of PTSD lawsuit settlements. Of that sixty percent, about thirty percent received at least one million dollars in awarded damages. It is imperative to note that this number can vary drastically based on several factors. A PTSD attorney can help obtain a more favorable amount, once they have determined whether a plaintiff has a case worth pursuing.

Again, not every claim will be worth pursuing. Some claims do not have enough legal basis, and some claims will prove too painful for the person diagnosed with PTSD to consider going through. Additionally, few PTSD claimants pursue their claim for any reason other than to recover financial losses due to their diagnosis.

When to Seek Help from an Attorney

PTSD lawyers can determine the legal grounds of a claim, as well as instruct their client in what sort of evidence they should obtain. If you are considering pursuing a PTSD claim, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury attorney. The attorney can help guide you through the process while complying with your state’s specific laws regarding the matter. Additionally, they will represent you in court as needed and work towards an appropriate damages award.

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