The demographic and psychiatric characteristics of 110 personal injury litigants.
B. F. Hoffman,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law
19(3): 227-36, 1991.
One hundred ten litigants who were suing for emotional damages were assessed by the author for
medical-legal reasons. Most of the plaintiffs were involved in motor vehicle accidents and suffered
from "whiplash" injuries. Semi-structured interviews were used to reach criteria based on DSM-III-R
diagnoses. Requests for consultation, on average, came 25 months after the patient's accident.
Approximately 70 percent of patients had evidence for continuing physical injuries to account for
the physical and emotional symptoms. The most common DSM-III-R diagnoses were psychiatric
condition affecting physical illness (N = 56), major depression (N = 27), and somatoform disorder
(N = 12). Alternative diagnoses relating the effect of the accident on the patient's life included:
emotional reaction to physical condition (N = 29), difficulty coping with developmental tasks (N =
20), severe depression (N = 20), aggravation of normal premorbid personality (N = 18), aggravation
of abnormal premorbid personality (N = 14), phobia (N = 7), no permanent effect (N = 12), and
independent illness (N = 2). Severe emotional problems and disability are common among litigants.
The causes of their suffering are more complex and less poorly understood than is assumed from the
pejorative labels that are sometimes applied. Lawyers and the courts need the help of psychiatrists
to understand this suffering. Empirical data such as these may lead to better classification systems
and improve our understanding and treatment of these patients.