The CDC defines a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a “disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury.” Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) account for about 30 percent of all injury deaths nationwide.
Each year, over 3.5 million Americans will suffer a brain injury. It’s the leading cause of death and disability in children, young adults, and the elderly. Approximately 52,000 people die each year due to a TBI.
A brain injury is different from many other injuries. If you break a bone, you may have difficulty getting around, but a TBI affects your brain, which may alter your mental capacity, personality, and the way you live every day.
A traumatic brain injury can happen to anyone. In recent years, there has been a large increase in concussions and other traumatic brain injuries in individuals ages 19 and younger, due primarily to sports or recreational activities. Those ages 75 and older also have a greater risk of TBI, largely due to falls.
Each brain injury is different, but each victim needs help and support. Victims and their loved ones struggle with an uncertain future. If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury, consult an experienced traumatic brain injury lawyer to learn more about your legal rights.
What are the leading causes of traumatic brain injury?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Injury Prevention, the main causes of traumatic brain injuries include:
- Falls: Older people (79 percent) and young people (54 percent) are most affected by falls.
- Striking or being struck by an object: This cause was highest among those 5 to 14 years of age.
- Car accidents: These are a leading cause of hospitalizations and fatalities for all age groups, but especially for adolescents and adults aged 15 to 44 years of age.
- Deliberate self-harm: About a third of TBI-related fatalities involve suicide.
- Violence: Many traumatic brain injuries are the result of violence, such as gunshot wounds, violent shaking, and domestic abuse.
- Sports and recreation: Every year in the U.S., approximately 3.8 million concussions happen during competitive sports and recreational activities. About 70 percent of all sports and recreation-related concussions take place in teenagers and children. An estimated 50 percent of concussions go unreported.
- Bicycle crashes. Approximately 13 percent of TBI injuries are the result of bicycle crashes in children ages 5 to 14. Bike helmets can reduce the risk of TBI by 88 percent.
- Construction site accidents
- Workplace accidents
- Product negligence
- Injuries suffered in combat. These are significant health issues among members of the military. Explosions and other blows to the head can cause a TBI.
- Medical negligence
Why are traumatic brain injuries called the “invisible injury?”
When we think of injuries, we often think of broken bones or bleeding. The signs of those injuries are clearly visible. Traumatic brain injuries are different. The signs of the injury are often subtle, and invisible, at least at first. The injured person may even make light of their symptoms and insist that they are “fine.” However, they may be struggling with headaches, confusion, or difficulty with hand-eye coordination.
Since many signs of brain injury are subtle, the injured person may not receive prompt diagnosis or treatment. The head injury may go undetected and undiagnosed. Also, TBI symptoms may appear days, weeks, or months following an accident and the initial treatment received in a hospital emergency department.
How does the brain get injured?
The human brain is a complex, amazing organ, but it is very vulnerable to injury. It weighs about three pounds and floats in fluid inside the hard, protective skull. It plays a critical role in every one of our functions, controlling many organs, our thoughts, memory, speech, and movements. Each brain lobe (frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital) controls different functions, so the symptoms of a brain injury partly depend on the location of the injury.
Experts classify traumatic brain injuries as either mild, moderate, or severe TBI. In “mild” injuries, systems still typically persist for weeks or months (and symptoms can prove anything but “mild”). If the brain injury is moderate, the victim may be unconscious for approximately 20 minutes to 6 hours. If they are unconscious for more than 6 hours, doctors usually classify this as severe brain trauma. For moderate to severe brain injury, recovery may take months or years. However, the most severe brain trauma cases may result in permanent brain damage.
Different types of brain injuries include:
- Focal contusions: The result of the sliding impact of the brain within the skull. This brain injury is the most likely to cause cognitive problems and difficulties with emotional control.
- Skull fracture: A fracture usually results from a major impact.
- Hypoxia and anoxia: If the brain does not get enough oxygen, for example, because of a birth injury, stroke, or and drowning, the result may be brain damage.
- Brain bleeding or brain hemorrhage: This is usually the result of trauma.
- Diffuse axonal injury (DAI): When the brain shifts or rotates inside the skull, the brain’s long connecting nerve fibers may be stretched or torn. A car crash may cause this type of trauma.
What are some common signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injuries?
Signs and symptoms can vary widely from person to person and from one injury to another. Some symptoms may appear right away, while others may not show up for days or weeks after the incident.
Below are some general indications of a brain injury:
- Chronic low-grade headaches
- Having trouble remembering, concentrating, and solving problems
- Difficulty with reading and/or writing
- Vision changes or hallucinations
- Changes in sexual drive or function
- Mood changes; feelings of sadness, irritability, anxiety
- Slurred speech or loss of ability to speak
- Poor control of voluntary movements
- Difficulty recognizing faces and visually locating objects
- Unusually aggressive behavior
- Difficulty with hand-eye coordination, impaired spatial orientation
- Impaired gross and fine motor coordination
- Tremors, dizziness, and nausea
What are common misconceptions about traumatic brain injuries?
Many people have mistaken beliefs about traumatic brain injuries.
An individual can have a serious traumatic brain injury, even though:
- They were not rendered unconscious. You can remain conscious and still have sustained a concussion.
- They appeared to be functioning normally right after the accident. Because they are walking and talking, observers may conclude that there is no injury.
- The speed or impact of the crash was relatively low, and they did not sustain any major physical injuries. Even a “minor” car crash can cause a traumatic brain injury.
- The results of their neurological, or medical tests appear to be normal.
- They can return to their job, but experience difficulty learning new things or adjusting to changes.
How do doctors diagnose and evaluate traumatic brain injuries?
Brain injuries are not like other injuries and so it is difficult to predict the outcome. In most types of injuries, the injury itself heals and functionality is usually restored. However, in the case of a traumatic brain injury, the brain itself might heal, but leave the functions that the brain controls permanently affected. Problems with functions such as speech or muscle coordination may not be quickly or easily fixed.
Brain imaging technology does not always detect traumatic brain injuries. That does not mean an injury did not occur. Brain injuries may be physical, but they also affect cognitive functioning. Neuropsychology is the field of medicine that deals with the study of the functional aspects of the brain. Neuropsychological testing helps diagnose the injury but also helps in planning the recovery and rehabilitation after the injury. Doctors may use a whole battery of tests to assess the cognitive, behavioral, and intellectual effects of the injury.
Doctors may use tests:
- Magnetic resonance imaging. An MRI is a high-quality three-dimensional image of the brain without the use of X-rays or other forms of radiation. While the MRI is a useful diagnostic tool, it may not detect tiny damage to fibers in the brain.
- Positive emission tomography. PET scans measure the energy consumption of the brain, which helps doctors determine what areas of the brain are working and what areas are not. This technology is an effective tool in detecting traumatic brain injury.
- Functional magnetic resonance imaging. An FMRI compares brain activity in both resting and active conditions so that doctors can map brain activity.
What treatments are available for individuals suffering from traumatic brain injuries?
Each person is unique and individuals may have different consequences from one injury to another, such as repeated concussions. Therefore, treatment plans are complex and differ from one person to another. Immediately following the injury, the injured person may require a hospital stay, possibly in Intensive Care.
After the initial treatment, the doctor may order medication to relieve symptoms. Therapy and rehabilitation may be necessary to regain motor functions, as well as speech, memory, occupational therapy, and other therapies designed to help the patient return to as normal a life as possible.
What are the financial costs of a traumatic brain injury?
Someone who has suffered a TBI may be unable to return to work for a long time. In some cases, they can never return to work or work at their previous job. Meanwhile, medical bills and other regular bills pile up and cause additional stress. Because the success of any rehabilitation program is different for each individual, predicting current and future expenses is difficult. The cost of caring for a person with a traumatic brain injury varies based on the severity of the injury, as well as the age and health of the injured person.
Some studies have projected average lifetime medical costs as follows:
- Mild brain injury - $85,000;
- Moderate brain injury - $941,000;
- Severe brain injury - $3,000,000+.
These costs do not include emotional and physical issues. In addition, the cost of providing long-term care for a head injury survivor is between $600,000 and $1,875,000 over the patient’s lifetime.
What are the long-term consequences of a traumatic brain injury?
In addition to the financial costs of medical care, there is a personal cost to this type of injury, such as:
- Cognitive and emotional changes. The injured person may suffer short-term memory loss, depression, or unusual temper outbursts.
- Difficulties with solving problems. The injured person may have a problem following instructions, learn new material, or understand abstract concepts.
- Problems with daily tasks. Routine tasks such as household management or child care may now be impossible to perform.
- Social isolation: Following a TBI, social skills can be very challenging. Over time, they may have fewer visitors and can become very lonely.
- Poor judgment.
- Partial, or complete loss, of the ability to read and write, and the ability to communicate.
- Difficulty with muscle coordination.
- Changes in sexual functioning.
- Sleep challenges and seizures.
What elements are necessary to prove negligence with a brain injury?
Brain trauma is challenging to recognize and diagnose. Also, it can be difficult to prove. If you have suffered a traumatic brain injury due to someone’s negligence or wrongful actions, under Florida law, you may seek compensation.
If someone causes a brain injury from negligent actions or omissions, the at-fault individual or entity must compensate the victim and family members for all of the losses that result.
Proving negligence means establishing:
- Duty: The defendant had a general legal duty to avoid actions or situations harmful to others.
- Breach of duty: The duty of care was not exercised or fell below an acceptable standard.
- Causation: The breach of duty is the cause of the accident.
- Damages: Due to the breach of duty, the victim suffered injury and losses.
What kind of compensation is available from a brain injury lawsuit?
Compensation for brain injury claims varies widely. Typically, you may recover damages for all medical costs, including the cost of ongoing or future care, and lost wages. Recovery may also include compensation for pain and suffering. In certain cases, the court may award punitive damages.
Work with experienced brain injury lawyers who have the knowledge and resources to properly assess your losses, so that you are not left without the funds you may need for future care. There are deadlines for filing lawsuits. If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury, get information and a free consultation with a dedicated, compassionate traumatic brain injury lawyer.