Each year more than 120,000 motor vehicle crashes occur on Pennsylvania’s roads and highways. Tens of thousands of those accidents result in serious injuries, including head traumas that can cause severe, even permanent impairments and disabilities to accident victims.
Head trauma victims who suffer their injuries in motor vehicle accidents caused by someone else’s careless or reckless conduct often have the right to take legal action seeking compensation. An experienced motor vehicle accident injury attorney works to obtain compensation for those victims in and out of court.
In this blog post, we delve into the subject of head trauma suffered in motor vehicle accidents, and the ways a skilled lawyer helps head trauma victims protect and enforce their rights. If you suffered head trauma or any other injury in a motor vehicle accident that was not your fault, then contact an experienced brain injury attorney today for a free case evaluation.
What Is Head Trauma?
Head trauma, more commonly referred to as a head injury, refers to any injury to the scalp, the skull, or the brain, ranging from a small bump on the head to a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Medical practitioners often categorize head traumas as open injuries or closed injuries. The difference between the two is whether the injury penetrated the skull. You might think closed injuries are less severe or harmful, but this is not the case. Serious brain injuries can occur from the force of impact in a motor vehicle accident without ever piercing the scalp, let alone the skull. To learn more about TBI and the other types of accidents that cause TBI's review some of our other practice areas that result in TBI's:
Examples of Head Trauma
Traffic accidents rank among the top causes of head trauma in the United States, and lead to a wide variety of injuries. The victim’s proximity to the point of impact, the angle of the collision, speed of the vehicles at the moment of impact, and the functioning of safety devices like seatbelts and airbags, can all influence the type and severity of head trauma.
Examples of types of head trauma that commonly occur in traffic accidents include:
- Concussions. A concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occurs when the impact of a collision causes a person’s brain to move inside their skull. Hitting one’s head on the dashboard, a window, or the seat in front of them during the crash can cause a concussion. Medical professionals sometimes refer to concussions as “mild” brain injuries, but do not let that qualifier fool you. Concussions can cause long-lasting impairments and difficulties for accident victims, including persistent headaches, brain fog, dizziness, and light and noise sensitivity.
- Contusions. A blow to the head caused by impact with a steering wheel, a window, or dashboard (for example) can cause a contusion (more commonly referred to as a bruise). A concussion can also occur inside the skull—bruising of brain tissue—that can disrupt brain function and lead to significant motor, physical, and emotional impairments for victims.
- Diffuse axonal injuries. High-speed car accidents frequently result in diffuse axonal head injuries to vehicle occupants. Diffuse axonal injuries are a type of traumatic brain injury in which the connective fibers in the brain tear (or shear) when the brain moves rapidly back and forth, or in a twisting fashion, inside the skull. Diffuse axonal injuries lead to death about 30 percent of the time, especially when left untreated. Victims who survive a diffuse axonal injury frequently suffer permanent brain damage that limits their lives.
- Penetrating injuries. The force of a motor vehicle accident can make even the smallest and simplest objects dangerous projectiles that can penetrate the skin on any part of the body. Penetrating injuries to the head can not only pierce the scalp but also the skull, often causing massive brain trauma with lasting complications for accident victims.
- Coup-contrecoup injuries. You can think of a coup-contrecoup injury as similar to a double contusion. When the head suffers a blow or jolt, the brain hits one side, then rebounds and hits the other side, causing damage on both sides of the brain leading to potentially significant impairments and difficulties.
Seeking Medical Attention for a Head Injury After a Motor Vehicle Accident
Traffic accident victims who suffer obvious, severe injuries often need emergency medical treatment at the closest hospital. However, some accident victims do not suffer injuries that show clear symptoms right away. Head trauma, in particular, may not trigger immediate, noticeable symptoms. Victims with these injuries may think they escaped an accident with just a “minor bump on the head,” and as a result, they may opt not to seek immediate medical treatment. That can be a dangerous mistake.
For one thing, traumatic brain injury resulting from head trauma may not show symptoms right away. It can take hours for the damage done by head trauma to begin affecting a person’s motor, cognitive, or emotional capabilities. Babies or children who suffer head injuries may not exhibit obvious symptoms for days. That is why leaving even the most seemingly “minor” head trauma untreated is a dangerous choice.
Doctors can perform assessments that diagnose brain injuries right away, before severe symptoms emerge. Immediate treatment does not necessarily heal brain damage, but it can stop further damage from happening, sparing victims some of the most severe and long-lasting difficulties that brain trauma can cause. In severe cases, what the victim thinks was just a bump on the head can lead to loss of consciousness, coma, and even death.
For another thing, severe brain injuries can cause significant financial strain for victims and their families. Leaving a head trauma untreated risks allowing symptoms to worsen to the point that you cannot work, which can lead to a downward spiral of financial crisis. In other words, visiting the doctor not only protects your health, it also protects your finances by limiting any damage you may have suffered to your brain.
Finally, seeking immediate medical care for a head trauma ensures that medical records exist tying any injury you suffered directly to the motor vehicle accident. Those records can end up providing crucial evidence to prove a legal compensation claim.
Symptoms of Head Trauma
We repeat: seek medical attention as soon as possible after suffering any kind of head trauma in a motor vehicle accident, no matter how “minor” you think the trauma is. Also, keep an eye out of warning signs of potential brain injury following head trauma.
Watch for the following symptoms as an indication of a potentially serious injury for which you should seek immediate medical care:
- A continuous headache or one that gets worse
- Continued nausea or vomiting
- Not waking up after a short or long period of sleep
- Has pupils that are different sizes
- Slurred speech similar to someone who has consumed too much alcohol
- Numbness in the extremities
- Loss of balance or coordination
- Confusion, disorientation, or agitation
These are just some of the many potentially debilitating symptoms head trauma and brain injury can cause. Your best course of action after suffering any sort of head trauma, whether or not you experience these particular symptoms, is to seek medical care right away. Then speaking with an experienced attorney can assist you with how to seek compensation for your "minor" car accident injuries.
Potential Long-term Impact of Head Trauma
Regardless of the severity of a head injury, long-term physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges are a real possibility. The effects of a brain injury can last for months, years, or even a lifetime. The more severe the injury, the more likely a head trauma patient will struggle with long-lasting impairments and difficulties.
Researchers and medical practitioners warn of the following potential long-term consequences of head trauma:
- Seizures as a result of post-traumatic epilepsy
- Sleep disorders, including trouble sleeping and trouble waking
- Neurodegenerative diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and Alzheimer’s
- Hormonal changes
- Change in appetite and trouble swallowing
- Chronic headaches
- Struggles with body temperature regulation.
Head traumas from motor vehicle accidents, especially those that result in brain injuries, can also impact cognitive function, speech, sensation, the senses, and behavior. Here is an overview of potential long-term effects in each of these areas:
People recovering from a head injury sometimes struggle with concentration, paying attention, and keeping focus. Other cognitive effects from a brain injury include challenges with remembering things, trouble processing ideas, and confusion. Some head trauma patients develop impulsive behaviors or have difficulty processing language. High-level cognitive functions such as abstract thinking, appropriateness, emotional intelligence, and knowing right from wrong can also plague victims of head injuries suffered in motor vehicle accidents.
Head trauma in a traffic crash also sometimes leads to speech and language issues. Accident victims sometimes have struggles talking, relaying ideas, understanding others, reading, and writing. These challenges fall under the umbrella of aphasia, which manifests in one of two ways. Patients might struggle to understand speech, or they might know what they want to say in their head, but struggle to form words. Other long-term speech issues can include slurring, rapid speech, slow speech, and reading comprehension difficulty.
Motor vehicle accident victims who suffer injuries are also at risk for long-term difficulties with the senses. It’s common for patients to struggle to identify the difference between touch and pressure. They may not perceive the way they are moving their extremities. Some accident victims cannot tell the difference between hot and cold and have general difficulty processing the information their brain receives through each of the five senses.
Specific effects on each sense include:
- Vision. Head injury victims might lose some or all of their vision, suffer from double or blurred vision, struggle to judge distance or depth, and suffer from eye twitches. Intolerance to light is also common after a severe brain injury.
- Hearing. Head traumas from car accidents can lead to hearing loss, ringing in the ears, and sensitivity to specific sounds.
- Taste and Smell. Depending on what part of the brain suffered damage, accident victims sometimes lose their sense of smell and/or their sense of taste. In other cases, victims are plagued with a metallic taste in their mouth.
A severe head injury can also have significant emotional impacts. Brain damage results in hormonal imbalances and changes that often have a large influence on behavior. Teasing out the difference between the physiological and the psychological can be challenging for doctors, and sometimes behavioral changes occur as a result of the two types of changes in combination.
Behavioral impacts from head trauma can include increased dependency on others, mood swings, lethargy, irritability, and depression. Two common effects that are especially difficult for victims’ families to cope with include aggression and social inappropriateness.
Potential Financial Impact of Head Trauma
Head trauma can also lead to significant financial difficulties for victims and their families. Severe injuries that require expensive, ongoing treatment can bankrupt a victim or family, especially if the injury interferes with the victim’s ability to work and earn an income.
Costs commonly associated with treating and living with head trauma can include:
- Medical treatment costs including an ambulance ride, emergency room visit, surgery, aftercare, medication, diagnostic testing, and follow-up doctor visits
- Travel expenses to and from the doctor or hospital
- Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and other specialized aspects of a rehabilitation program
- Mental health services to cope with the emotional distress of an accident and permanent injuries
- Assistive devices such as wheelchairs or assistive technology such as computer programs that help people to communicate
- Long-term nursing care at home or in a facility for those who need full-time care
- Lost wages and benefits from missing work for an extended period of time or from the inability to return to work
- Home modification expenses to make an accident victim’s house more accessible, such as the installation of a ramp, handrails, special locks, and any other special equipment to help a victim get through their daily routine
- Costs for replacing labor the head trauma victim provided before the injury, such as snow removal, lawn care, outside maintenance, cooking, cleaning, running errands, laundry, and childcare
Seek Legal Help for Head Trauma
Head traumas are serious business. If you or a loved one suffered a head injury in an auto accident that was not your fault, then you may have the right to receive significant compensation. Contact an experienced car accident attorney for a free case evaluation.
The Levin Firm
1500 John F. Kennedy Blvd,
Two Penn Center, Suite 620
Philadelphia, PA 19102