The general phrase “head injury” is often used to describe a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Head injuries range in their level of severity and in their effects on a person. A TBI can be very distressing for both the victim and their close friends and family.
People who have suffered a TBI often experience impairments and difficulties that change their lives forever. Families and friends may see their loved one suffer from life-altering disabilities and lose independence. There may also be substantial medical expenses, loss of income and general pain and suffering. Often, the victim or a loved one will take legal action if another party purposely or accidentally caused the TBI. If so, getting a head injury lawyer involved should be an immediate priority.
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What Is Traumatic Brain Injury?
A traumatic brain injury can impair balance, coordination, fine motor skills, strength and endurance, as well as memory, information-processing skills and language coherence. Unlike other injuries that heal without changing who the person is, a brain injury can completely alter an individual’s personality and mental abilities. While injuries like a broken leg or punctured lung are immediately apparent symptoms, it is possible symptoms of a brain injury may not surface for days or even weeks after someone sustains an injury.
There are two main types of head injuries that result from an impact of some kind:
- Open head injury: In this type of head injury, the skull has been fractured or penetrated. A fracture is usually a result of direct contact with a blunt object or hard surface. Falls and other accidents in which the head comes in contact with a hard surface can cause open head injuries. A penetrating head injury occurs when a foreign object penetrates the skull and damages the brain. Not only is the brain physically damaged, but there is an open wound in the skin.
- Closed head injury: A closed head injury does not involve fractures or penetrations of the skull, but instead occurs when the brain itself hits the inside of the skull. Though there is no open wound suggesting an injury, the brain may swell inside the skull, resulting in extreme pressure that can cause long-lasting or permanent damage. In some cases, the brain may swell and crowd into the eye sockets, resulting in vision impairments. Closed head injuries are typically the result of whiplash or other indirect forces on the brain. These injuries can be very serious, especially when accompanied by internal bleeding.
Another serious type of brain injury is an anoxic brain injury. This type of traumatic brain injury occurs due to a prolonged lack of oxygen to the brain. Without oxygen, cells in the brain begin to die. The effects of an anoxic brain injury can be severe and life-threatening.
Common Causes of Head Injuries
Head injuries can result from a variety of circumstances, from playing sports to tripping on the stairs, so nearly everyone is at risk of experiencing a TBI. Some of the most common causes of TBIs include:
- Car accidents: Car accidents can cause drivers and passengers to slam their heads on hard surfaces inside the car, especially if there are no airbags, or can cause whiplash that jolts the brain inside the skull.
- Slip-and-fall accidents: Slips and falls can happen nearly anywhere to almost anyone. They are especially common, though, when slick surfaces, such as a freshly mopped floors or icy sidewalks, are involved. When a person falls headfirst, a TBI can result.
- Intentional violence: Intentional violence to the head can cause severe damage, whether it is a punch, a kick or any other type of impact. A gunshot to the head is one of the most severe modes of violence and will result in an open TBI that is likely to be fatal.
- Medical malpractice: Medical malpractice is another type of accident that can cause a TBI. When a surgeon is conducting brain surgery, for example, they may make a wrong move that causes serious damage to part of the brain.
Levels of Severity for Traumatic Brain Injuries
When a head injury is diagnosed, it may be classified as mild, moderate or severe. These classifications, however, do not indicate the seriousness of the effects upon the individual and their family members.
- Mild traumatic brain injuries: Mild TBIs, such as concussions, are typically characterized by brief loss of consciousness, an altered mental state at the time of the injury or difficulty in focusing during or after the accident. Sometimes those who have suffered a mild traumatic brain injury may appear completely uninjured, and tests and scans may even seem normal, though there may be significant damage. Typically, mild TBIs affect the brain temporarily. If in doubt about the severity of an injury, consult a physician.
- Moderate traumatic brain injuries: Moderate brain injuries result from a blow to the head that does not penetrate the skull, or a violent shaking of the head in which the brain hits against the inside of the skull. Sufferers may experience a loss of consciousness that lasts from a few hours to one day or 24-hour period. Confusion and other cognitive and physical impairments may last months or longer. Usually, people who experience a moderate TBI can make a recovery with treatment over time.
- Severe traumatic brain injuries: Penetrations to the skull or crushing blows to the head result in severe brain injuries, though closed brain injuries can be classified as severe as well. These injuries are often life-threatening, since the brain tissue is crushed or torn. The victim will likely be unconscious for 24 hours or more with no sleep-wake cycle. Hospitalization and rehabilitation are required, though most patients do not return to the state they were in before the injury. The patient is then at a higher risk for developing other serious medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Measuring the Degree of Traumatic Brain Injury
There are several methods of determining the degree of a traumatic brain injury. Two of the most commonly used methods are the Glasgow Coma Scale and the Ranchos Los Amigos Scale:
- Glasgow Coma Scale: The GCS is a preliminary evaluation tool to gauge the severity of traumatic brain injuries. It measures post-trauma eye-opening abilities, verbal responses and motor responses, assigning each area a score. The scores from each section are then totaled — the lower the score, the worse the nitial injury. A score greater than 13 points indicates a minor head injury, while a score of 9 points or fewer is a sign of a more severe injury.
- Ranchos Los Amigos Scale: Another gauge health professionals use is the Ranchos Los Amigos Scale. This scale measures levels of cognition, awareness, behavior and interaction with the environment. The scale defines eight levels of functioning, from 0 — No Response — to 8 — Purposeful and Appropriate Responses. Like with the Glasgow Coma Scale, a lower score on the Ranchos Los Amigos scale is an indicator of a severe head injury.
In addition to these two scales, skilled professionals like neuropsychologists can further define the nature and degree of injury through a series of sophisticated tests. They will also pay attention to any related symptoms the patient is experiencing in the days after the injury. Medical professionals can use this information to develop an effective rehabilitation plan for the brain injury victim.
Signs and Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury
The signs and symptoms of a traumatic brain injury are not always immediately apparent, especially in the instance of a closed brain injury. The injury may not be visually obvious, and some symptoms may not develop for a few days. In many cases, the affected individual may even report feeling fine immediately after receiving the injury.
Whether they appear right away or are delayed, symptoms often include a combination of:
- Mild, constant headaches
- Loss of consciousness
- Amnesia or decreased memory
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or balance problems
- Ringing in the ears
- Mood or personality changes
- Increased sensitivity to sounds, light and interruptions
- Difficulty organizing and sequencing information
- Neck pain
If any of these symptoms develop shortly after an accident or injury, you should seek medical attention right away. A medical professional will evaluate the symptoms to determine the severity of the TBI. Symptoms and impairments caused by a brain injury could be temporary, long-term or permanent.
Recovering From a Traumatic Brain Injury
It is very difficult for doctors to predict the course of recovery from a traumatic brain injury. Every person experiences different changes and impairments after experiencing a TBI that are largely based on their life prior to the injury, as well as the part of the brain that was damaged. No two brain injuries are exactly the same, and therefore no two outcomes of a brain injury are the same.
Some of the factors that go into predicting life post-injury are as follows:
- Severity of the injury
- Individual’s age at the time of injury
- Amount of time spent in a coma
- Amount of time that has passed since the injury
- Individual’s social and role demands
- Pre-injury lifestyle, goals and values
- Individual’s ability to adapt to changes
- Availability of resources, therapy and rehabilitation services
Since so many factors affect the way an individual will recover after a TBI, it is very difficult to make predictions about their overall recovery. Even more challenging is the evaluation of the long-term effects. Depending on the severity of the injury, victims will experience varying levels of impairment lasting for different lengths of time. Some effects of TBI may never go away.
Long-Term Cognitive Effects of a TBI
Some people with a moderate to severe brain injury experience a variety of cognitive impairments that stay with them for the duration of their lives.
Long-term cognitive effects on life can include:
- Difficulty concentrating for long periods of time
- Memory loss
- Speaking slowly
- Trouble learning new material
- Problems keeping track of time
- Difficulty coordinating and planning events
- Difficulty understanding language
With proper training and rehabilitation, it is possible for individuals to improve or overcome some of these cognitive impairments, though it may take a significant amount of time and dedication to therapy.
Long-Term Effects on Mood and Behavior From a TBI
In addition to cognitive impairments, individuals with a traumatic brain injury may also experience changes in their mood and behavior. Someone’s personality may be completely different after suffering a brain injury.
Long-term effects on behavior and mood include:
- Increased dependency on others
- Irritability or aggression
- Decreased motivation
- Inability to adapt behavior to various situations
- Emotional mood swings
Another important behavior change that occurs in many TBI patients is a lack of awareness about the injury, or even denial. Individuals who are in denial about their TBI often don’t realize the severity of their condition, or are unable or unwilling to distinguish differences in their behavior and abilities from before and after the accident.
Often, people who experience a TBI don’t remember much of the incident or hospitalization, which can contribute to the denial factor. In other cases, the person may be in denial for emotional reasons or even neurological reasons, in which case the damage to the brain limits the ability to recover.
It can be difficult for these people to believe they sustained a serious injury, and therefore, they may not want to seek help to overcome their related impairments. Through the process of neurorehabilitation, a team of professionals will work to help the individual recognize their injury and the lingering effects as they aid them in persevering through challenges.
Though some of the changes in mood and behavior related to a TBI may be permanent, many victims can reduce the impact of the effects over time with rigorous therapy and rehabilitation.
Other Long-Term Effects From a TBI
Cognitive changes, in addition to changes in mood and behavior, are the most common result of a traumatic brain injury. However, depending on the severity of the injury, some people may experience further effects of the brain injury.
Other possible long-term effects of a TBI include:
- Full or partial loss of vision, reduced depth perception and an inability to connect visual images to visual comprehension, meaning the individuals are unable to describe what they are seeing.
- Seizures that occur either immediately after the injury or several years later. These seizures may either include uncontrolled muscle movements and unconsciousness, or less muscle movement and no loss of consciousness.
- Physical paralysis or spastic muscle movements, which can occur if motor areas of the brain suffered damage. Because of this, some people experience trouble controlling their bladder and bowels, loss of appetite or trouble eating, in addition to difficulty sleeping. Some women develop menstrual problems as well.
These complications occur in a small percentage of those impacted by TBI, depending on the area of the brain that was damaged and the severity of the injury.
When to Consult a Traumatic Brain Injury Attorney
The most common causes of head injuries are car accidents, whiplash, slip-and-fall accidents, intentional violence and medical malpractice. In many cases, it is possible to prove another party was at fault in causing the brain injury.
If a head injury results in adverse job consequences, personality changes, disrupted family life, disability or other significant issues, knowledgeable brain damage lawyers are essential. If the injury was the result of the careless or negligent behavior of another party, the victim might be eligible for compensation by filing a personal injury lawsuit. Keep in mind there is limited time to file a lawsuit after the injury, so speak with medical professionals and attorneys as soon as possible to take legal action before time runs out.
If the victim cannot file the lawsuit themselves, a family member or loved one may file the lawsuit on their behalf. In instances where the brain injury caused the death of a loved one, a wrongful death claim may be filed for family members to receive compensation. When determining the amount of compensation, judges consider factors such as the severity of the TBI and related impairments. Because determining severity is a main factor in receiving compensation, it is important to seek immediate medical attention so doctors can evaluate the degree of trauma. If you or a loved one has experienced a TBI and would like to take legal action, request a free consultation with a traumatic brain injury lawyer today.