Mental Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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How Do You Win When You Admit You Should Lose?

NORMA Gonzalez v. Southern Air Transport, San Antonio Plaintiff

Norma Gonzalez was trapped in an airport building into which Southern Air Transport’s C-130 aircraft crashed, killing the crew. The building was destroyed by fire, and Ms. Gonzalez was trapped for 10 minutes, fearing for her life. Representing the defendant, Rose Walker admitted liability, and the case was tried only on damages.

The crux of Southern Air Transport’s defense was that Ms. Gonzalez, a young adult, had an undiagnosed personality disorder prior to the accident, and that her conduct afterward was not a manifestation of PTSD but rather of acting out. The proof was that the plaintiff had led a normal life before the accident, but afterward was institutionalized in a mental ward for two years, where she attempted suicide seven times and gave up her children for adoption to her parents.

SAT offered a six-figure settlement before trial, but the plaintiff demanded $4 million. The key to the case was the plaintiff’s Army medical records (recovered at great effort from the military depository in the Missouri salt mines), which showed her emerging emotional disorder as a teenager. The state district court jury awarded zero damages, finding no relationship between the accident and the plaintiff’s emotional problems.