PTSD and Other Psychological Conditions in Personal Injury Lawsuits
Many types of physical injuries are easy to prove. If you break your leg in a slip and fall, or if you suffer burns in a car crash, it would be hard to deny that these injuries occurred. The situation can become more complicated if a victim suffers from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or other psychological conditions following a traumatic event like an accident. In these cases, the harm is not visible, and some insurers or juries may be skeptical about it without strong evidence supporting the condition.
Symptoms of PTSD
People who are suffering from PTSD tend to have recurring flashbacks to the traumatic event that interrupt their thoughts and may cause nightmares. The condition can undermine many areas of their personal and professional lives. They may feel compelled to avoid certain places or activities associated with their trauma. Victims may deal with other associated conditions as well, such as insomnia resulting from the nightmares or anxiety. They may have trouble interacting with people at work or in their family, and they may be easily distracted or unnerved in situations that would not normally be stressful.
If a victim is suffering from a different psychological condition, this likely will have its own specific symptoms. It is important to document symptoms with precision and regularity to establish that they meet the requirements for a diagnosis.
You likely cannot prevail in a claim based on PTSD or another psychological condition without the testimony of an expert witness. A jury probably will lack the medical knowledge to determine whether symptoms amount to a certain condition, and an insurer may take this type of claim less seriously if the victim does not have an expert witness to support them. (Defendants may hire their own expert witnesses, who will try to suggest that the victim does not have the condition.)
An expert witness will need to establish their qualifications to discuss this specific medical issue. Then, they will outline the process of diagnosing the psychological condition, including the symptoms associated with it. This will lay the foundation for fact witnesses.
Once an expert witness has defined PTSD or another psychological condition from which the victim claims to be suffering, fact witnesses will explain why the victim has been diagnosed with this condition. These witnesses are usually the doctors and therapists who have treated the victim and have personal knowledge of their condition. If the victim’s own doctor or therapist has been qualified and introduced as an expert witness, they can serve as both an expert witness and a fact witness. Otherwise, expert witnesses and fact witnesses likely will need to be different health care professionals. An expert witness might be asked, however, whether they believe that the victim is suffering from the condition at issue, in view of the evidence and other information known to them.
Some states do not allow an expert witness or fact witness to provide an “ultimate opinion” on whether a victim is suffering from PTSD or another psychological condition. They require the jury to make that decision on their own, based on the medical evidence provided. In other states, by contrast, an expert is free to provide a specific diagnosis. (The jury can give this diagnosis as much or as little weight as it finds appropriate. It is not forced to take an expert’s opinion at face value, and often it will need to decide which of two clashing experts to believe.)
Personal Injury Law Center Contents