7 Things You Should Know About PTSD and the Law   

Content provided by legal writers


More than 580 million people worldwide will have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) at least once during their lives. That’s about 7.5 percent of the entire global population, which means the condition is something that touches nearly every family at one time or another. 

There’s another side to PTSD that is not often discussed in the major media outlets. That is its massive impact on the legal profession, on people charged with crimes, and on a host of other issues relating to the law and legal liability. However, to understand the intersection of law and PTSD, it’s essential to first look at the basic facts about the condition. 

PTSD Basics 

In most cases, when someone is diagnosed as suffering from PTSD, it means they have experienced a traumatic event of such significance that it caused them to later display behaviors that resemble severe anxiety, depression, violent behavior, extreme guilt, and a host of other non-adaptive responses to everyday life. 

While there is no single cause of PTSD, common causes include natural catastrophes and disasters, wartime or combat-related encounters, terrorism, abuse, and more. For the most part, the triggering event can take many forms but is usually something far out of the ordinary for the sufferer. 

PTSD as a Legal Defense 

When someone is diagnosed with a valid case of PTSD, it’s possible to use medical determination as a way to defend in civil and criminal courts. Additionally, many people who have PTSD ask their employers to accommodate them in multiple ways on the job. And, if a plaintiff can show that an employer or someone else created conditions that led to their PTSD diagnosis, a court might send the sufferer to a luxury trauma treatment center at the losing party’s expense. 

Judges are Often Reluctant to Accept PTSD as a Defense 

Even though PTSD is being used more and more as a legal defense in civil and criminal courts, many judges are reluctant to accept it as a stand-alone reason to excuse various kinds of illegal behavior. But, of course, as the psychiatric profession now offers more clarity on the disorder, some of those reluctant judges are coming to view PTSD as a valid defense when there’s expert testimony to back up the claim. 

Definitions are Changing 

Nowadays, even mental illness and substance abuse problems can be defined, in a legal setting, as being the result of PTSD. Plus, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) now covers situations in which employers do not adequately accommodate workers with PTSD. 

PTSD Could Become a Textbook “Mental Illness” 

Though it’s not currently categorized as a form of mental illness, PTSD is on its way to becoming one. This is especially true as the definition of the disorder is changing as time passes and now includes many more facets of behavior than it did decades ago when wartime trauma was the central aspect of the problem. 

Defendants Prefer to Plead PTSD Rather Than Insanity 

In some criminal jurisdictions, it’s easier to prevail when you can show a definitive diagnosis of PTSD as a basis for diminished mental capacity. This approach often uses PTSD symptoms as a basis for proving the defendant suffers from one of several abuse syndromes. 

Criteria for Diagnosis 

For a PTSD diagnosis to be made and accepted in a court of law, the general requirement is that the defendant must have suffered an event far removed from everyday life in terms of the mental or physical distress it caused. Likewise, the defendant must prove that they are displaying several of the typical symptoms of the disorder. 


This content is provided by an independent source for informational purposes only and does not contain legal advice. Consult an attorney or financial advisor when making decisions. This information is provided by legal writers and does not reflect the views or opinions of The Daily Sundial editorial staff.