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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The Borderline Plaintiff

The Borderline Plaintiff is a problem for attorneys who may lack the clinical skills to recognize that some of their clients have serious, but often undetectable, emotional issues.  Psychologists often take many years learning to deal with individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder.  When your client has this condition, they may make your life a living hell, AND, they may cause you to lose your emotional damages case.  Borderlines may come to you with sexual harassment, racial harassment, unlawful termination, or other civil cases.

Borderlines, as they are called, may superficially appear to be perfectly rational, intelligent and well-balanced.  As you get to know the Borderline, she (most are women) may reveal herself to be dishonest, paranoid, and, especially, to have a raging temper.  She will deny all of this, to herself and others.  For this reason, when it comes to obtaining her recall of what took place with regard to the litigation, her version may well be inaccurate and colored by her emotions, rather than by the facts.

What appeared to be a legitimate lawsuit taken on by the attorney may turn out to derive from events that occurred only in the mind of the Borderline client.  Discovery may reveal that no witnesses support the Borderline’s view of the case.  By the time the attorney figures this out, the attorney may have invested too much of his or her time to turn back and will hope to move the case forward to recoup whatever is possible.

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