PTSD and the Law   [open pdf - 321KB]

This newsletter focuses on the legal aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The authors focus on both civil law and criminal law cases where PTSD is used as both defense and offense in litigation. From the article: "The PTSD diagnosis represents landmark recognition that an external event can serve as the direct cause of a mental disorder. This has led one authority to state that 'accurate assessment of PTSD-specific symptoms forms the basis for defining psychic injury in law ...' (Raifman, 1983, p.124). Slovenko (1994) noted that PTSD is a favored diagnosis in tort law because it is incident-specific and easy to understand, and it tends to rule out other factors potentially involved in causation. Through PTSD, plaintiffs attempt to establish that the psychologic problems they are claiming issue from an alleged traumatic event and not from a myriad of other possible sources. A diagnosis of depression, in contrast, may expose the causation issue to many etiologic considerations. [...] Many fears have been expressed about the misuse of PTSD in criminal cases, but it is questionable whether such fears have actually come true. Appelbaum et al. (1993) carefully showed that despite early concerns, the PTSD insanity defense is raised infrequently, and, like other insanity pleas, is usually unsuccessful. [...] In some self-defense cases, PTSD may aid a defendant in showing that a particular type of provocation to which she had become especially sensitive in light of previous traumatization caused her to feel physically threatened and evoked a reasonable self-defensive reaction. The most familiar example is so-called 'battered woman syndrome'(Dutton & Goodman, 1994). In criminal trials, PTSD is unique among mental disorders in its invocation not only by the defense but also by the prosecution. The presence of PTSD in a victim, e.g., in the form of 'rape trauma syndrome' (Burgess, 1983; Frazier & Borgida, 1985), may be cited by the prosecution as evidence supporting the actual occurrence of the alleged criminal act."

Public Domain
Retrieved From:
National Center for PTSD: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/
Media Type:
PTSD Research Quarterly (Spring 1998), v.9 no.2
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