Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological condition which many people relate to military service but is actually just as commonplace in everyday life. The legal profession treat psychological and physical injuries in the same manner therefore it is possible to claim compensation for PTSD. Historically PTSD was dismissed by many people as some kind of fad but it is now possible to medically diagnose PTSD via a number of recognised tests.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder which creates a physical/psychological response to a particular situation. The disorder tends to be brought on by serious injuries, life or death situations, violence or in some cases witnessing traumatic events.
The brain is a very powerful organ and while PTSD is treatable it can often take many years to control. In what many would describe as a trigger situation, specific scenarios, comments, smells or even sounds can bring about a PTSD reaction. In effect these various elements can put the person back in that place of danger and prompt the body’s natural fight or flight reaction.
Symptoms Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Individually the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may seem like “everyday life” but cumulatively they can be life changing. Some of the more typical symptoms of PTSD include:-
- Sleeping disorders
- Mood swings
- Hyper arousal
- Thoughts of suicide
- Avoidance tactics
If you can imagine regularly suffering from an array of these symptoms together this is often the life of a PTSD sufferer. It will therefore be no surprise to learn that these cumulative symptoms can bring on an array of other issues such as:-
- Violent outbursts
- Panic attacks
The first port of call for a potential PTSD sufferer is their GP who will likely make an informal diagnosis and recommend the patient to a consultant psychiatrist. These are experts who are able to carry out various tests and formally diagnose PTSD.
Scenarios Where Compensation For PTSD Might Be Claimed
In order to claim compensation for PTSD there needs to be a specific link to a trauma or incident brought about by the negligence of one or more third parties. While the vast majority of PTSD compensation claims tend to revolve around the victim there are also cases where witnesses have developed the condition. This may be as the result of witnessing a serious accident or the traumatic sight of a person being treated or even dying. While it can be more difficult to directly connect witness PTSD cases to specific incidents we have seen numerous successful prosecutions.
Some of the more common scenarios leading to PTSD include:-
- Being involved in a serious accident
- Mental and physical abuse
- Bullying in the workplace
- Military service
We will take a look at military-related PTSD cases separately as there are specific legal protections afforded to the MoD where combat immunity applies.
PTSD And Road Traffic Accidents
As road traffic accidents are by far and away the most common source of personal injury claims it will be no surprise to learn that they are often associated with differing degrees of PTSD. When you consider the speed of some vehicles, the weight and the potential injuries which can be inflicted, we can only imagine some of the traumatic sights victims, witnesses and medical personnel will come across.
While medical personnel are “trained” to operate in such challenging circumstances it is very different for victims and witnesses. The sight of dismembered limbs, serious head injuries and life-threatening conditions can leave a lasting impression. Very often those who have suffered from physical injuries may not be aware they have also developed PTSD as their focus remains on recuperation and recovery. Sometimes it can be weeks, months or even years later that they are diagnosed with PTSD.
Health And Safety At Work Act 1974
As we touched on above, PTSD induced as a consequence of military service is a whole different scenario compared to more traditional employment roles such as:-
- Care workers
- Fire service
There is a temptation to assume that these professions, amongst others, may expose individuals to incidents which could bring about PTSD. While to a certain extent this is true there is still a legal obligation on all employers to ensure the health and well-being of their employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. For example, if a healthcare worker was attacked by a patient due in part to a lack of safety procedures then the hospital/health care company could be held partially or wholly liable in a PTSD claim.
Failure To Diagnose PTSD
In certain professions PTSD is more prevalent than others and it is imperative that there are systems in place to diagnose and treat sufferers. There are ways and means of mitigating the potential for post-traumatic stress disorder for those who have suffered or witnessed a trauma. Failure to diagnose and treat PTSD within a “reasonable timescale” could be deemed negligent in the eyes of the law. This would then open various parties to PTSD compensation claims.
Building A PTSD Compensation Claim
Before we look at the various potential elements of PTSD compensation claims it is worth reminding ourselves of the many situations this condition can impact. These include:-
- Family life
- Social/recreational participation
- Working life
- Daily living
As a consequence of an inability to carry out all of the above activities in a “normal” manner, PTSD can be life changing. The idea that PTSD is somehow “in someone’s head” is a very ignorant and misinformed view of this condition. Yet again, we find ourselves in a scenario where physical injuries attract sympathy while psychological issues are often swept under the carpet. Those who ignore PTSD do so at their peril as left undiagnosed and untreated it can literally be life-threatening.
When looking towards PTSD compensation claims, the individual’s long-term prognosis and the potential for future “episodes” will also be taken into account.
Elements Of Compensation
When looking at PTSD claims and personal injury compensation claims as a whole there are two elements which are referred to as general damages and special damages:-
- General damages
This type of compensation relates specifically to the physical and emotional pain/suffering experienced as a result of trauma and subsequent PTSD. The degree of compensation will depend upon the severity of the physical/psychological injuries. The courts will refer to the Judicial College Guidelines which cover specific compensation for specific injuries.
- Special damages
Very often special damages can dwarf general damages because they include all employment income lost as a consequence of PTSD. They will also take into account the cost of medical treatment, out-of-pocket expenses and any directly related costs going forward. For example, those unable to work again because of PTSD may claim loss of income for the natural remainder of their working life.
Treatment For PTSD
While there are psychological treatment programs within the NHS you will often find long waiting lists. As a consequence, many people in need of treatment for PTSD will seek private counselling which can be relatively expensive. However, where negligence has been recognised (and accepted) with one or more third parties the victim may be able to arrange an interim payment to cover treatment. It is fair to say that the earlier treatment for PTSD is received the more chance of reducing the long-term impact on the individual’s life. In many cases, this treatment can be life-saving.
Military Personnel And PTSD
The situation with regards to military personnel and PTSD is slightly different because the principle of combat immunity applies. This effectively means that individuals cannot sue the MoD for compensation in the civil courts but this does not wholly exempt the MoD from compensation.
As we touched on above, there is as much legal obligation on all parties to minimise the number of PTSD scenarios as there is to diagnose and treat the condition. Therefore, if an individual was to develop PTSD and this was undiagnosed or untreated by the MoD, within a reasonable time frame, then they may well be found to be negligent. In this scenario, it is possible for the MoD to be sued for PTSD compensation although it is more likely there would be an out-of-court settlement.
Armed Forces Compensation Scheme
Those who develop PTSD in “their normal duties” within the military are not normally able to pursue compensation via traditional channels. There is however an Armed Forces compensation scheme which is a “no-fault scheme” where injured military personnel (remember, physical or psychological injuries) can apply for compensation.
While there is no doubt this particular scheme is recognised and utilised by military personnel today, this has not always been the case. Those involved in military services have traditionally been trained to keep a “stiff upper lip” and avoid displays of weakness at all costs. This in itself could be seen as a form of negligence but that is a whole different subject for another day.
There is no doubt that PTSD is more recognised today than it ever has been and there are specific tests to diagnose the condition. While the majority of sufferers will have been involved in some kind of traumatic event, whether a physical accident or a psychological incident, the condition can also affect witnesses. While classed as a psychological disorder, this condition can trigger an array of traumatic reactions such as flashbacks, violence, nightmares, mood swings, thoughts of suicide and severe sleep disturbance. If left untreated PTSD can be quite simply life-threatening.