Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2011


This Article examines the origins of the unique relationship between the psychiatric diagnosis Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the law and considers the implications of that relationship for contemporary uses of the diagnosis in legal settings. PTSD stands apart from all other diagnoses in psychiatry 's standard classification system, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM} , and is the focus of significant controversy within psychiatry, because its diagnostic criteria require a determination of causation. By diagnosing a person with PTSD, a clinician necessarily assigns responsibility to a specific event or agent for causing the person 's symptoms, a practice more commonly associated with law. In short, the diagnosis uniquely medicalizes liability. The law has turned to PTSD, on the erroneous assumption that its location in the DSM signifies that it is well-settled science, to serve as a mechanism to resolve difficult problems in assessing legal responsibility. These uses include determining whether a criminal complainant is credible and when emotional distressfrom another's negligence is sufficient in itselfto serve as a basis for liability. However, by adopting PTSD 's conceptualization of causation of psychological injury, courts unknowingly delegate normative determinations of liability to psychiatry broadly and to the individual psychiatrists who present PTSD evidence at trial. This Article argues that the legal system should consider PTSD's origins and its persistent controversies as part of a broader reexamination of the role of the diagnosis in the law. "[A}s soon as you accepted that the man's break down was a consequence of his war experience rather than of his own innate weakness, then inevitably the war became the issue. "1

Publication Title

Temple Law Review



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