The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It is made up of more than 100 billion nerve cells called neurons which transmit electro-chemical signals to and from the brain and nervous system. The brain controls nearly every vital and meaningful aspect of life – our movements, our senses, many of our vital functions, our thoughts, our intelligence, our memory, our emotions, and our personality. The brain makes us who we are. Consequently, when a part of our brain is damaged it can have a devastating impact on our life as well as those that care about us. Tragically, at least 3.5 million people suffer some type of brain injury every year and a person suffers a brain injury every 9 seconds in the United States.
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)
Traumatic brain injuries are injuries to the brain caused by some external force such as a blow to the head, such as that suffered in a fall, accident, or as the result of violence. TBIs may vary in severity from mild to severe or fatal. TBIs can cause many physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral effects. Outcomes can range from complete recovery to permanent disability or death. Mild TBIs (called concussions) may cause temporary symptoms or changes in mental status, whereas severe TBIs can have permanent life-changing effects. Most serious TBIs are the result of a single, sudden event causing massive trauma to the head or brain. Immediate brain trauma is often noticed within minutes or days of the injury. Secondary injuries (such as changes in the cerebral blood flow and the pressure within the skull) can further damage the brain. Some severe TBIs may be the result of repeated exposure to mild or moderate trauma, such as those suffered by certain types of athletes or professions – the symptoms or effects of such injuries may not even be noticeable until after years of exposure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control TBIs are a major cause of death and disability in the United States. In 2014 there were approximately 2.87 million emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths related to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) – about 837,000 of these events occurred among children. TBIs claimed the lives of 56,800 people, including 2,529 children. Unfortunately the incidence of TBIs has grown over the years – the CDC reports that TBIs have increased 53% from 2006 to 2014. Furthermore, a number of TBIs are probably unreported since some people may not be aware they suffered some type of brain injury or they do not seek medical help.
The most common TBIs are concussions which are usually caused by a blow or jolt to the head. Concussions usually cause temporary, mild or moderate, non-life threatening effects such headache, confusion, lack of coordination, memory loss, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, ringing in the ears, sleepiness, and excessive fatigue. In some cases a concussion may cause a temporary loss of consciousness. Although concussions are often considered “mild” brain injuries because they are non-life-threatening, their effects can be significant and full recovery may take days, weeks or even months. Also, repeated concussions may have permanent effects.
According to the CDC, youths are at higher risk for concussions, especially those active in certain sports, and therefore parents, schools, and coaches are urged to educate themselves on ways to minimize the risk of concussions, including the proper use of equipment (e.g. helmets, etc.) and ensuring safe conditions and appropriate rules of play at school, on the playground, and on the sports field.
According to the University of Pittsburgh's Brain Trauma Research Center, more than 300,000 sports-related concussions occur annually in the U.S. and more than 62,000 concussions are sustained each year in high school contact sports. Furthermore, the likelihood of suffering a concussion while playing a contact sport is estimated to be as high as 19 percent per year of play – 34% of college football players have had one concussion and 20 percent have endured multiple concussions. Estimates also show that 4% to 20% of college and high school football players will sustain a brain injury over the course of one season.
Many concussions suffered at school or in sports activities are avoidable or can be minimized with proper equipment, supervision, and safety rules. In some cases a school or sport organization may be held legally liable for injuries caused or aggravated by a failure to take appropriate safety measures. If you or someone you love were diagnosed with a concussion at school or during an organized sporting activity you should contact an attorney to learn about and preserve your rights.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
Another type of traumatic brain injury is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) (also called repetitive head injury syndrome). CTE is a type of brain degeneration caused by repeated head traumas such as concussions. CTE symptoms don't develop right after a head injury, but rather develop over years or decades after repeated head trauma. People most likely at risk to develop CTE include boxers, football players, rugby players, soccer players, ice hockey players, military veterans, and victims of domestic abuse.
Although the exact mechanism is not fully understood, CTEs are thought to cause areas of the brain to degenerate (atrophy). Scientists believe the signature indicator of CTE is an abnormal protein called tau, that spreads throughout the brain, killing brain cells and interfering with normal brain functions. Early symptoms of CTE usually appear in a patient's late 20s or 30s, and affect a patient's mood and behavior – patients may display impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and paranoia. As the disease progresses, usually when patients reach their 40s or 50s, they may experience cognitive problems such as impaired thinking, memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, and eventually progressive dementia. People with CTE may eventually display signs of other neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Parkinson's disease. Although CTE may be suspected based on symptoms and an individual's personal and medical history, a definitive diagnosis can only be made by examining a patient's brain after they have died.
Congressional hearings, lawsuits, and recent medical studies have brought the problem of CTE into the spotlight. In 2017 Congress held hearings with doctors, experts and former National Football League (NFL) players to discuss the problem of TBIs and CTEs in professional and college sports. According to one website that keeps track of CTEs in college athletes, as of November 2018 at least 147 colleges have former football players with CTE, and 26 of those schools have at least three former players who have been diagnosed. Even more shocking, a study published in 2017 showed that in a sample of 202 deceased American football players who donated their brains for autopsy examination (including high school, college and professional players), CTE was neuropathologically diagnosed in 177 players across all levels of play (87%), including 110 of 111 former National Football League players (99%), 48 of 53 college players (91%), and 3 of 14 high school players (21%). The study included the brains of renowned NFL players including Ken Stabler, Kevin Turner, Bubba Smith and Dave Duerson, all of whom were found to have suffered CTE.
The problem of CTEs has resulted in numerous lawsuits filed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and NFL for failure to adequately protect their players. Some of these lawsuits are ongoing while others have settled.
If you or someone you love played a heavy contact sport such as football and are experiencing or have been diagnosed with neurological, psychological, or emotional problems you may be entitled to compensation and should immediately contact an attorney to learn about and preserve your legal rights.
Acquired Brain Injuries (ABIs)
In contrast to a TBI which is caused by an external force on the brain, an acquired brain injury (ABI) is usually caused by a medical condition or illness that affects the brain on a cellular level. Most cases of ABIs are not due to the fault of another person, but rather the result of an illness or health condition– for example: brain injury due to a stroke (ischemic or hemorrhagic); a brain tumor or cancer; neurological disease (e.g. Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, ALS, etc.); or bacterial, fungal, or viral infections. In other cases brain damage may be self-induced through the heavy use of alcohol or drugs.
However, some forms of ABIs may be the result of another person or organization's negligence – for example, brain damage caused or made worse due to medical malpractice (e.g. medication errors, a failure to diagnosis or treat in a timely manner, surgical errors, anesthesiologist errors, birth/delivery errors, etc.). Brain injuries may also result from negligent actions of employers, business owners or landlords – as in the case of toxic exposures, carbon monoxide poisoning, or accidental/preventable drowning. In such cases, the party or parties who caused or contributed to the incident resulting in brain injury can be held legally liable and ordered to pay the injured party or their family damages.
Common Causes of Brain Injury
- Sports (e.g. hard contact sports, such as boxing, wrestling, martial arts, football, rugby, soccer, etc. in which the players is exposed to blows to the head or sudden powerful jolts or collisions)
- Job-related injuries (e.g. military personnel, construction workers)
- Falls (e.g. tripping or slipping accidents). Falls are the leading cause of all TBI-related hospitalizations (52%) with the vast majority affecting minors 0 to 17 years and adults 55 years of age and older. They are also the leading cause of TBI-related death for persons 65 years of age or older.
- Vehicle Accidents (e.g. car, motorcycle, atv, truck, train, boat, etc.). Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of TBI-related hospitalizations (20%) overall, and the leading cause of hospitalization for adolescents and adults aged 15 to 44 years of age. Motor vehicle crashes were also the leading cause of TBI-related death for persons 15-24, 25-34, and older adults aged ≥75 years.
- Toxic exposure (e.g. carbon monoxide or lead poisoning)
- Oxygen Deprivation (e.g. hypoxia or anoxia due to drowning, medical error, etc.)
- Violence (e.g physical assault by another person or suicide attempt).
- Medical Malpractice (e.g. botched surgery, birth delivery error, misdiagnosis, drug or treatment errors)
What are the long-term problems linked to brain injuries?
Doctors cannot always predict the long-term outcomes of brain injuries. Possible long-term complications can include:
- inability to concentrate
- difficulty communicating
- reasoning problems
- impaired judgment
- speech, vision, feeling, or hearing problems
- loss of coordination
- muscle problems
- sleeping problems
- emotional instability
What are the possible treatment options for a traumatic brain injury (TBI)?
With advances in medicine, many traumatic brain injury patients survive, but most never return to their previous lifestyles. Although some brain damage is irreversible, modern medicine has dramatically improved outcomes for brain trauma patients in recent years. Treatment may include surgery and medication as well as physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. The brain takes time to heal. Recovery can take weeks, months, or years.
The Cost of Brain Injuries
Brain injuries are devastating - financially and emotionally, not only to the patient, but to the patient's family, friends, business and coworkers, and society in general. At least 5.3 million Americans live with a TBI-related disability and the immediate and long-term financial costs for brain injury medical care can be staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the lifetime economic cost of TBI, including direct and indirect medical costs, was estimated to be approximately $76.5 billion (in 2010 dollars). Furthermore, the cost of fatal TBIs and TBIs requiring hospitalization, many of which are severe, account for approximately 90% of total TBI medical costs.
A severe brain injury can affect all aspects of a person's life, including their relationships with family and friends, as well as their ability to work, drive, perform household chores, and perform basic daily living activities like feeding, dressing or bathing oneself, and going to the bathroom. Family members must often make great financial, professional, and personal sacrifices often to help care for their injured loved ones. The psychological and emotional toll on family and friends is often extremely high – it may mean a loss of social life or intimacy.
Medical costs may include hospitalizations, medications, and surgeries. Brain injuries also usually require regular visits to specialists such as neurologists, surgeons, and psychiatrists. Brain injury patients may also require costly equipment such as motorized wheelchairs, specialized computers, and various assistive (hearing, seeing, and speaking) technologies. It may also require costly modifications to the home to make areas safe and accessible. Serious brain injury victims may also require long-term inpatient or outpatient care, nursing care, and regular physical therapy, occupational therapy, and/or speech therapy. Brain injury victims also may also lose their ability to work and earn a living.
Seeking Compensation for Brain Injury Accidents
If you or a loved one suffered a brain injury due to the intentional act or negligence of another party you may seek financial compensation for:
- Medical expenses, which include the costs of both past and future medical treatment and care.
- Lost wages or earnings, including future earnings, if the injury negatively impacts one's ability to work.
- Cost of equipment and past and future services (e.g. therapy and care services) related to your brain injury
- Pain and suffering, which includes compensation for actual physical pain, as well as compensation for loss of enjoyment of life associated with suffering from a life-changing injury.
- In some cases, spouses and family members may also seek compensation for loss of companionship, moral support and/or intimacy (loss of consortium). In wrongful death cases they may also seek compensation for loss of financial contributions, services, or support from the deceased.
Helping victims of brain injury
No matter what the cause of the injury, brain injury accidents are a specialized area requiring knowledge of complex medical and legal issues. They require attorneys knowledgeable about brain injuries and top medical experts to build a strong case. If you or someone you love has suffered a brain-related injury from an accident, violence, or other event, you should contact an experienced law firm in order to protect your rights and seek just financial compensation. We urge you to contact our Los Angeles based attorneys for a free, no-obligation, confidential review of your potential case and see how we can help!