Post-traumatic stress disorder and the law: critical review of the new frontier.
A. A. Stone,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law
21(1): 23-36, 1993.
Since its debut in the psychiatric nomenclature in 1980, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has
had a dramatic impact on criminal and civil jurisprudence. PTSD has created a cottage industry
among both criminal and negligence attorneys and mental health practitioners. The diagnosis first
achieved public notoriety when it was introduced as a new basis for the insanity defense. More
recently "syndrome evidence" of the subtypes and variations of PTSD have encroached on the
substantive criminal law of self-defense. In addition, the diagnosis may have an impact on such
traditionally legal and factual determinations as the credibility of witnesses and may undermine
conservative tort doctrine that attempts to cabin psychic injury. The emerging legal area of victims'
rights has been strengthened and paradoxically divided by PTSD. Yet the newly defined disorder of
PTSD has not borne such a heavy forensic burden easily. Indeed the diagnosis poses for psychiatry
some of the very problems it supposedly solves for legal purposes, including the illusory objectivity
of the causative traumatic event and the expert's dependence upon the victim's subjective and
unverifiable reports of symptomatology for the diagnosis. [References: 41]