Each year, approximately 1.4 million people experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders. Transportation accidents involving automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians account for half of all traumatic brain injuries and are the major cause of TBI in people under age 75. The organization also notes that TBI is the leading cause of long-term disability among children and young adults.
The human brain is very susceptible to damage from the forces generated by a typical auto accident. TBI lawyers commonly see brain injuries when the head strikes part of the vehicle during a crash, such as the windshield or dashboard. But the brain can also suffer injury without a direct blow to the head. The impact from a collision can cause the brain to undergo a sudden backward and forward motion, commonly referred to as “whiplash.” Whiplash is considered a closed-head injury, as it takes place within the skull.
The Silent Epidemic
Traumatic brain injuries are called the “silent epidemic” because TBI cases can be so challenging for lawyers to prove. Many traumatically brain injured accident victims appear normal; most speak well and don’t display obvious signs of a brain injury. Even medical classifications for TBI are misleading. Most people are diagnosed with “mild” traumatic brain injury, but this is a medical classification only. It doesn’t mean the disabilities and impairments are also mild.
The American Congress of Rehabilitative Medicine defines mild traumatic brain injury by at least one of the following symptoms:
o Any period of loss of consciousness
o Any loss of memory for events immediately before or after the accident
o Any alteration in mental state at the time of the car accident such as feeling dazed, disoriented, or confused
o Neurological deficits that may or may not be temporary
In serious car crashes, brain injuries rarely occur without accompanying serious physical injuries, so doctors and emergency rooms frequently miss the symptoms of a brain injury. In fact, more than 80 percent of brain injuries are not diagnosed in emergency rooms as the initial signs of TBI.
Doctors rarely see only one set of symptoms, clearly defined impairments or a disability that affects only one part of a person’s life. And when other, more urgent medical problems are apparent at the onset of a car accident, mild TBI is often masked and can be ignored by doctors.
Some long-term conditions of traumatic brain injury include seizures, headaches, visual problems and sleep disorders. Some of the most persistent and common functional problems include memory impairment, difficulties in concentration as well as deficits in language use and visual perception. Additionally vulnerable to TBI are problem-solving, abstract reasoning, judgment, information processing and organization. Mood disorders, personality changes, emotional control, depression and anxiety are also prevalent with traumatic brain injury from a car accident.
Steps to Protect Yourself After an Auto Accident:
1. Seek emergency care for your personal injuries and traumatic brain injury immediately.
2. Document any TBI symptoms and complaints you have as soon as possible, no matter how minor they appear to be.
3. Ask your doctor for the proper tests to diagnose a brain injury. Most doctors order MRI or CT scans, which show structural changes in the brain. However, most brain injuries, even severe and debilitating, will not show up on an MRI. That’s why it’s important to get functional testing as well. Tests to consider are Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and a Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography (SPECT).
4. If problems from your head injury persist, ask your doctor for a referral to a neuropsychologist. A neuropsychologist has expertise in brain functioning. Through a series of tests, a neuropsychologist can help determine the location and extent of any brain injury.
5. Retain an experienced traumatic brain injury attorney to obtain fair compensation for damages suffered in a car accident. Defense lawyers often hire doctors who accuse people of exaggerating their injuries or of having pre-existing conditions. It’s important to hire a TBI lawyer who knows how to protect you, and who can expose these “experts” and their misleading accusations.
Remember, traumatic brain injury law and the automobile accident exceptions that exist under each state’s law requires very specialized knowledge. There are helpful links online for TBI Auto Accident Victims including a list of valuable information resources and directories to locate an experienced attorney.