Gas Leak Fuels Victims' PTSD

Today's gas leak at the intersection of Glenview and Earl Avenue served as a frightful reminder to the Crestmoor residents of the September 2010 San Bruno explosion.  For many residents the sight of fire engines and the call to evacuate will rekindle flashbacks and distressing dreams of the event.  There's no doubt that this gas leak will exacerbate many San Bruno residents’ Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Even PG&E’s psychological experts agree that many Bruno residents now suffer from PTSD.  Psychiatrists rely upon the DSM IV for the diagnostic features of PTSD.  Those who suffer from PTSD may have personally experienced the explosion and suffered from the threat of death or physical injury to self or the threat of death or injury to a family member or other close associate.  

The PTSD  victim's response involves intense fear, helplessness, horror, and agitated behavioror.  The symptoms include persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event; often referred to as flashbacks.  The victim also may show a persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma such as fire engines or loud noises that sound like the roar of the uncontrolled gas fire. Other symptoms include a general numbing resulting in feelings of detachment or estrangement; and an inability to feel emotions such as intimacy or tenderness.   

Another common symptom of PTSD is a sense of a foreshortened future:  not expecting to have a career, marriage, children or even a normal life span.

Although today's gas leak is a sad reminder of the tragedy nearly two years ago, it also confirms the intensity of emotional distress the residents have suffered.  Not all residents know that their symptoms amount to PTSD.  But victims should not delay contacting an attorney.  The two year anniversary of the event – September 9, 2012 is also the deadline for filing a claim for any damages (physical, emotional, or property related) against PG&E.

San Bruno Residents' Right to Compensation for Emotional Distress

Many of the San Bruno residents evacuated on September 9th may be categorized as “survivors,” having escaped the Glenview fire without being burned.  But even though they suffer no physical injuries, the gas explosion will leave dozens with emotional injuries that will persist for a long time to come.

Generally the law does not require a wrongdoer to compensate the victim for the emotional distress it has caused a victim unless it has also caused the victim to suffer some sort of physical injury.  And certainly PG&E will argue that the general rule should apply here -- that unless a victim suffered physical injury, PG&E shouldn't be required to compensate him for any emotional injury that it may have inflicted.

But in a special situation like this one, everyone who suffered serious emotional injuries should be entitled to compensation, regardless of whether they suffered any physical injuries.   That's because PG&E knew that if its negligence led to a gas line explosion, people would fear for their lives and for those of their loved ones.   PG&E's behavior was morally wrong and the laws are designed to hold wrongdoers accountable for all the harm they cause, even if that harm is "only" emotional distress.

Seeking compensation for emotional distress (or "post traumatic stress disorder") does not mean you are weak or can't handle a stressful situation. Nor does it mean you are piling on or taking advantage of the system.   People who suffer from emotional distress suffer real losses.   Often because they can't concentrate, they lose their jobs or do poorly in school.  Their family situations may deteriorate because they begin to snap at those they love.  They suffer from anxiety – feel constantly "on edge" -- and that can lead to depression.  

Lawyers experienced in PG&E explosion cases can assist the San Bruno residents who are suffering emotionally from this haunting catastrophe.

Proving PTSD with MEG Imaging Studies of the Brain

A recent study shows for the first time that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be objectively diagnosed using magnetoencephalography (MEG), a non-invasive measurement of magnetic fields in the brain. Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis VA Medical Center published a study this month in the Journal of Neural Engineering identifying a biological marker in the brains of those exhibiting symptoms of PTSD.  Conventional brain scans such as an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI are unable to detect PTSD.

According to one of the rearchers, Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos,

These findings document robust differences in brain function between the PTSD and control groups that can be used for differential diagnosis and which possess the potential for assessing and monitoring disease progression and effects of therapy.

In addition to diagnosing those with PTSD, the researchers also were able to judge the severity of  the patient’s suffering. 

Attorneys representing accident victims suffering from PTSD may be able to use these imaging techniques to support their clients' claims for pain and suffering  against those responsible for causing their accidents.
 

Can Traumatic Brain Injury Victims Develop PTSD?

One would assume that if a TBI victim cannot remember the injury producing event, he cannot suffer flashbacks or nightmares re-experiencing the event. Right? Wrong.

Indeed, a diagnosis of a TBI generally requires a loss of consciousness. But the victim's loss of consciousnesss does not shield him from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.  Apparently PTSD can occur after a TBI, but the TBI may alter the symptoms' development.  A TBI victim's symptoms may relate to events that just preceded his loss of consciousness, or to events that occurred immediately after.  The symptoms may even relate to details about the trauma-producing event itself that the victim learned about later in his recovery.

 

Accident Victims and PTSD

Even after the physical injuries have healed, an accident victim may still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  She may continue to experience flashbacks, nightmares, or daydreams in which the traumatic event is replayed again and again. The person may also suffer an abnormally intense “startle response” – like a rush of anxiety that bursts from her brain and shoots to her fingertips accompanied by a rapid heart rate. Other symptoms of PTSD may include impaired memory and difficulty concentrating and insomnia (or even a fear of sleeping due to the nightmares). The trauma of the accident disrupts various intellectual and emotional processes. It is sometimes referred to as "a normal reaction to abnormal event."

PTSD symptoms are among those that may be included in an award for pain and suffering as discussed here.