A life threatening accident can have a seriously debilitating effect on the way a railroader functions in nearly every aspect of life. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD") has become a popular issue in lawsuits. Probably no diagnosis in the history of American psychiatry has had a more pervasive effect on the law than PTSD. PTSD is regarded with less skepticism as the medical community and public gain more scientific knowledge. Evidence of this can be found in the September 11th tragedy. Surveys conducted after the September 11 attacks indicate a rise in the number of persons close to the scene who were diagnosed with PTSD.
WHAT IS PTSD?
PTSD requires that the railroader experience an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury to self or others. The law under the FELA - Federal Employers’ Liability Act holds that the railroader does not have to actually suffer physical impact in order to maintain a PTSD claim against the railroad. However, the railroader must be within the "zone of danger," that is, placed in an immediate risk of physical harm because of the claimed unsafe acts of the railroad.
Typically, the railroader who is diagnosed with PTSD will experience intense psychological distress when a stressor associated with the traumatic event is present. For example, an engineer involved in a train collision re-experiences the collision when he sees another train approaching. The approaching train is a trigger which causes him to re-experience the collision through distressing recollections of the event. This may take the form of dreams, flashbacks, illusions or hallucinations that make it seem as if the traumatic event is happening again. Clients diagnosed with PTSD report such things as, "I see it happening over and over again," or "I wake up at night hearing the screams in my sleep."
A PTSD victim may try to avoid being around the railroad. He may avoid the places, people and activities that provide recollections of the event. This may be accompanied by sleep difficulty, irritability or outbursts of anger, poor concentration and other significant personality changes. PTSD is significant because, although it is treatable, it can last for decades or even life.
In some cases, PTSD prevents the railroader from working safely and effectively. The railroad work environment is triggering recollections of the event and psychological distress. This may make it difficult to return to work. Consequently, PTSD lawsuits potentially involve substantial lost wage claims. In addition, because PTSD affects the railroader’s relationships, activities, concentration and enjoyment of life, a railroader may seek damages in an FELA lawsuit for emotional pain and suffering.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PTSD
First and foremost, if you, a loved one, co-worker or friend are having difficulty coping with a life threatening accident, it is important to make an appointment for an evaluation with a psychologist experienced in treating PTSD. Medications and therapy can be effective in treating PTSD. The treating psychologist will perform a comprehensive evaluation in order to establish a formal diagnosis of PTSD. The diagnosis should conform to the diagnostic criteria set forth in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). It is also important that the treating psychologist be able to provide a credible and understandable link between the psychiatric symptoms and the cause of these symptoms (i.e., a traumatic, life-threatening event experienced while working for the railroad). Therefore, it is crucial that the PTSD victim provide a complete history of the manner in which he perceived the life-threatening event, the "stressors" or "triggers" associated with emotional distress and the impact on his life.
We find it helpful in PTSD cases to combine the treating psychologist’s testimony with that of a qualified psychiatric expert. Presenting a PTSD case to a jury is a difficult task that requires an experienced FELA / railroad injury attorney. The difficulty in presenting a PTSD case to a jury is compounded when there are issues of criminal history, alcohol or drug use, social or relationship difficulties, present or past physical conditions that could cause current symptoms, and any involvement in unrelated suits or disputes. A common strategy among railroad defense attorneys is to contend that the railroader’s emotional problems are due to other events or conditions. The railroad's attorneys will hire their own evaluating experts to dispute the PTSD diagnosis, and the causal relationship between the traumatic event and the psychological symptoms. Railroad defense counsel may argue that a jury verdict should be reduced to the extent that other problems or conditions caused the railroader’s psychological condition. These are some of the pitfalls to a PTSD claim that only an experienced FELA railroad accident attorney can combat.
In short, PTSD is a complex psychological diagnosis that demands special care by qualified medical and legal professionals. If you have any questions or concerns related to this article, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1-888-425-1212.