Is PTSD the New Whiplash?

Years ago, the claim of “whiplash” was identified as an often bogus addition to a personal injury claim resulting from an auto accident. Whiplash was a neck injury, presumably caused by head movement at the moment of impact. In the days before headrests became mandatory safety features, these claims were numerous.

Anyone who was rear-ended could claim whiplash, as there were no objective findings that would rule in or rule out the claim. Plaintiffs may have submitted many false claims for whiplash. Some may have been outright frauds, while others may have generated imaginary pain as a result of the frightening accident.

The question arises in today’s litigation climate as to whether PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the new whiplash. It’s symptoms can be life altering, or even life threatening in those who actually suffer from PTSD. It is an anxiety disorder that also mimics depression. Many of our soldiers back from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from this condition, and it is most likely perfectly legitimate in those cases.

At the same time, PTSD has emerged as a potentially malingered or manufactured emotional damages claim in a wide range of litigation. It comes up frequently in motor vehicle accidents, yet it is also found in sexual harassment and other employment cases, not to mention in psychotherapy and medical malpractice.

PTSD, when it is put forth as the basis for an emotional damages claim, must be carefully evaluated to determine whether it is authentic. Unfortunately, the symptoms of PTSD are often difficult for the layperson or attorney to distinguish from simple stress or just ordinary bad memories.

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