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Have you or someone you loved been involved in an accident that resulted in a brain injury? If so, you are not alone; according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.5 million American men, women, and children sustain brain injuries each year. These injuries can be life-changing, as the damage can be severe and often, is long-lasting or even permanent, and can impact every aspect of not only the person who has sustained the injury's life, but of the lives of his or her loved ones, as well. Many brain injury victims are unable to work, cannot attend school, and are even unable to take care of themselves, and as such, they rely on others – their family members and/or professional care givers – to assist them with their daily needs. In some cases, brain injury patients succumb to their injuries, leaving behind dependents that relied on them for survival.

Whether you are the survivor of an accident that resulted in a brain injury or you are the survivor of a loved one who has perished as a result of his or her brain injuries, in addition to coping with physical and mental suffering the injury has caused, chances are that you are also suffering financially. The costs that are associated with medical care, lost wages, making accommodations to your home – and life in general – in the wake of the accident add up. You've suffered enough; you shouldn't suffer financially, too. Rather, the party responsible for the accident that caused the injuries should pay for the related expenses. A lawyer that specializes in brain injuries may be able to help you get the compensation you are entitled to.

What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as an acquired brain injury that occurs as a result of a sudden trauma to the head that damages the brain, and affects how the brain works. These injuries can be caused by bumps, blows, or jolts to the head, or from penetrating injuries to the head, such as a gunshot wound.

The CDC states that TBI is a major cause of disability and death among Americans. The following is a brief snapshot of data that illustrates how TBI impacts American citizens:

  • In the year 2020, an estimated 176 American citizens lost their loves as a result of a brain-related injury every day.
  • In 2019, more than 223,000 people were hospitalized following a traumatic brain injury.
  • In 2019, roughly 15 percent of high school-aged students in the United States reported they had suffered at least one concussion that occurred as a result of sports or recreational activities in 2018.

While anyone can suffer a brain injury, data indicates that certain groups of people are at an increased risk of sustaining TBI, and that their risk of either dying or developing long-term or permanent health complications following the injury. These groups include the following:

  • Service members and veterans
  • Individuals who are affected by homelessness
  • Individuals who are held in detention or correctional facilities
  • Victims of domestic abuse
  • Those who reside in rural areas
  • Ethnic and racial minorities

Types of Brain Injuries

Typically, traumatic brain injuries are classified into four main types, and the severity of the injury determines the classification. In order to measure the severity of injuries, health care professionals utilize the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), a scoring system that is based on a person's level of consciousness post-TBI.

This scoring system is comprised of 15 points, and each point calculates a various physical functions following an injury to the brain; his or her verbal response and ability to open his or her eyes, for example. The more points a patient scores on the GCS, the higher his or her level of function will be; an indication of a less severe injury. The four possible severity levels on the GCS are as follows:

  • 13 to 15 point GCS score = mild TBI
  • 9 to 12 point GCS score = moderate TBI
  • 4 to 8 point GCS score = severe TBI
  • 3 point GCS score = persistent vegetative state

The lower a person's score on the Glasgow Coma Scale, the more severe his or her brain injury is. Generally speaking, the higher the severity of the injury, the longer it takes to recover; however, in severe cases, the damage that TBI has caused may permanent.

Closed and Open Brain Injuries

In addition to the four categories outlined above, medical professionals use additional criteria to diagnose traumatic brain injuries; namely, the manner in which the brain has been injured. Usually, TBIs are grouped into one of two primary categories:

  • Closed brain injuries. With these types of TBIs, the skull is not fractured.
  • Open brain injuries. The skull bone either breaks or is penetrated, which leaves the brain exposed to the elements, with these types of TBIs.

There are several different kinds of TBIs that can occur within these two groups, including:

  • Concussions. The most common type of TBI, concussions occur when the head is struck by a powerful force. This force causes the brain to move in the direction of the force until it makes contact with the skull. The contact with the skull and the force behind that contact damages the brain. While it used to be that concussions were really only considered inconveniences, they are now treated more seriously. Symptoms of a concussion can vary, ranging from mild to severe, and in extreme cases, can even cause permanent complications. In patients whose symptoms last more than a month are often considered to have post-concussion syndrome.
  • Contusions. Essentially a bruise, (a mild form of bleeding) on the brain tissue, contusions often accompany concussions. If two parts of the brain are affected by a contusion, this is referred to as an injury known as a coup-contrecoup. Typically, contusions heal on their own; however, that isn't always the case, and if the bruise does not heal, it can turn into a hematoma, which can be surgically removed. Contusion-related damages vary and depend on the size, the location, and how long it persists.
  • Intracranial hematomas. When blood collects outside of the blood vessels within the brain, it is known as a hematoma. There are three main types of hematomas, including:
    • Epidural. Blood collects between the skull and the brain
    • Subdural. Blood collects under the layer of protection that surrounds the brain
    • Intracerebral. Blood collects within the brain itself

When large hematomas occur within the brain, serious injuries and even death can occur if treatment is not provided. Sometimes, hematomas develop immediately following a head injury, but there are cases when it can take several days or even weeks after a patient experiences a blow, bump, or jolt to the head for a hematoma to develop.

  • Brain hemorrhages. Hemorrhaging describes uncontrolled bleeding, and following a TBI, hemorrhages can occur either on the surface of the brain or within the brain tissue. When hemorrhaging occurs in the space that surrounds the brain, it is known as a "subarachnoid hemorrhage", and when the origination point is within the cerebral matter, it is known as an intracerebral hemorrhage. One of the several different kinds of focal (localized), hemorrhages only impact a specific part of the brain. Though the damage caused by a hemorrhage does tend to be less severe than other types of TBI, they are serious and can be life-threatening if prompt treatment isn't provided.
  • Coup-contrecoup. A coup-contrecoup is a serious form of TBI. In French, the word "coup" means "blow" and "contrecoup" means "counterblow". As such, a coup-contrecoup describes two individual brain injuries.
    • A coup injury, which occurs right under the area of impact
    • A countercoup injury, which occurs on the brain opposite to the impact

The majority of coup-countrecoup injuries happen when the head is slammed into a stationary object; a steering wheel or windshield, for example. Because of the power behind the impact, the brain rebounds off of the front of the skull and then hits the back of the skull, which causes a secondary impact.

  • Diffuse axonal injury (DAI). One of the most severe types of TBI, a diffuse axonal injury happens then a patient's brain shakes or twists within the skull. Cerebral tissue moves back and forth as the brain twists, and it does so until the axons (the long connecting fibers within the brain) break. This is referred to as axonal shearing , and it disrupts the messages that are sent by the neurons, and as a result, the function is lost. Since the majority of DAI only causes microscopic tears, detection can be very difficult. The severity of the symptoms that are associated with DAI depends on the size and the location of the tears; more torn axons, the more serious the impact will be.
  • Penetrating brain injury. As described above, penetrating brain injuries occur when the skull and brain are penetrated by an object; a bullet, for example. A penetrating TBI is severe and requires prompt medical care.
  • Recurrent TBI. Also known as "second impact syndrome", recurrent TBI occurs when an initial brain injury is followed by a second brain injury. Typically, the damage caused by the secondary injury is more severe than the damage caused by the initial damage.

Common Signs and Symptoms Associated with TBI

The signs and symptoms of a brain injury vary and depend on the type and severity of the injury. In some cases, there may be no signs or the signs and symptoms may be subtle, but they can appear or gradually worsen over time; in other cases, the signs and symptoms may appear immediately following the injury and can be severe. With that said, the following are some of the common symptoms that may appear suddenly or gradually worsen after a bump, jolt, or blow to the head.

  • Change in or loss of consciousness within a few seconds to a few hours following a head injry
  • Decreasing consciousness; it's difficult for the patient to awaken
  • Changes in vision, such dilation in one pupil or double vision
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Clear fluid (cerebral spinal fluid) dripping from the nose and/or ears
  • Sudden or gradual onset of neurological issues; slurred speech, loss of balance, weakening in the extremities, for example
  • Sensory issues, such as ringing in the ears (tinnitus), blurred vision, unusual taste in the mouth, changes to the sense of smell
  • Sensitivity to sensory stimulations; light, noises, etc.
  • Changes in mood, such as mood swings, combativeness, depression, and/or anxiety
  • Changes in sleep patterns; having a difficult to falling and/or staying asleep, sleeping more than usual, difficulty awakening
  • Increased fatigue
  • Cognitive difficulties; issues with recalling information, concentrating, or making decisions

Children and babies can also sustain brain injuries; however, the signs and symptoms may be different among this age group, as they can have a hard time pinpointing what's wrong or expressing what's bothering them. In addition to the signs and symptoms outlined above, children and babies may also exhibit the following:

  • Persistent crying, crankiness, or irritability
  • Inability to be consoled
  • Changes in nursing or eating habits
  • Sleep changes
  • Loss of balance
  • Changes in play
  • Vomiting
  • Skill regression; toilet accidents after being fully toilet trained, for instance
  • Changes in academic performance
  • Listlessness or fatigue

If you or a love one are experiencing one or more of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms of a TBI, seeking immediate medical care is imperative; however, it is a wise idea to seek medical attention following an injury to the head, even if signs and symptoms are not present.

What Causes Brain Injuries?

As discussed, brain injuries can be caused by bumps, blows, or jolts to the head. The sudden movement to the head can cause the brain to twist or bounce around within the skull, can stretch and damage brain cells, or can chance chemicals within the brain. These alterations to the brain can result in symptoms that can impact how an individual thinks, learns, acts, feels, and sleeps. TBIs can also occur when there is a penetrating injury to the brain.

Traumatic brain injuries can occur for a number of reasons. The severity of the damage depends on several factors, such as the cause of the injury and the force of the impact to the brain. Some of the most common incidents that can result in TBIs include the following:

  • Falls. Falls are among one of the most common causes of traumatic brain injuries. According to the CDC, nearly half of TBI-related hospitalizations in the United States are the result of falls. Examples include falling off of a ladder, falling down stairs, falling while shower, or falling off a bicycle.
  • Vehicle collisions. Motor vehicle collisions are another common cause of traumatic brain injuries. These accidents can cause the victim's head to forcefully slam into a steering wheel or into a roadway, for example, and the impact can cause the brain to twist or move around within the skull.
  • Domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence, child abuse, gunshot wounds, and other types of assaults are also a common cause of TBI. For example, shaken baby syndrome is a form of traumatic brain injury in infants that occurs when they are shaken violently, and that shaking causes the brain to forcefully rock back and forth within the skull.
  • Sports and recreational injuries. Sports and recreational activities can also cause traumatic brain injuries. Boxing, football, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, skateboarding, skydiving, and other high-impact sports or recreational activities can result in TBI.
  • Explosive blasts and combative injuries. In activity duty service members, explosive blasts are a common cause of TBI. Though the cause of the damage is well understood, it is believed that pressure waves generated by the blast pass through the brain, which causes rocking or can otherwise disrupt the brain.
  • Penetrating wounds. TBI can also occur as a result of penetrating wounds; gunshot wounds to the head, or shrapnel or debris penetrating through the skull and into the brain tissue, for example.

How a brain Injury Lawyer Can Help

When you or a loved one is involved in an accident that results in a TBI, the injuries aren't all that you'll have to contend with; you'll also have to deal with financial issues, as a result of exorbitant medical bills, lost wages, and the need to make changes your home and your life, overall.

If the accident that lead to the TBI was caused by someone else, either as a result of negligence or maleficence, you may be entitled to financial compensation. A lawyer that specializes in TBI cases may be able to assist you with seeking compensation. The following is an overview of some of the ways in which an attorney can help you with a TBI case:

  • Assess your case during a consultation
  • Conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances that caused the injury
  • Obtain key documentation, such as accident reports and medical records
  • Interview eyewitness and expert witnesses
  • Handle essential documents
  • File claims and pursue the compensation that you deserve via demand letters
  • Negotiate on your behalf
  • Represent your case in court, if necessary

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