Most people have seen a concussion happen or noticed the results of one afterwards. But few are aware of the broad spectrum of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) that strike 1.7 million people of all ages in the U.S. annually, often with devastating results.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, brain trauma is one of the leading causes of fatality in the U.S. Each year approximately 50,000 Americans are lost to brain injury while another 5.3 million are living with disability due to various types of brain damage.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about the common types and causes of traumatic brain injuries, and the legal steps to take if you or a loved one is suffering from a TBI caused by negligence.
What Causes a TBI?
“A TBI is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain,” according to the CDC. Or as Johns Hopkins Medicine puts it, “TBI happens when a sudden, external, physical assault damages the brain.” There are two types of brain injuries:
- Penetrating: as when a bullet or knife pierces through the skull, and
- Closed: as when there’s an injury to the brain, but not the skull.
Not every impact will trigger TBI, and not all types of brain damage lead to coma and death. The severity of a TBI depends largely on the location and type of trauma sustained. A severe TBI can result in an extended period of unconsciousness or memory loss, while a mild one can have you feeling like nothing ever happened–until lethargy, headache, nausea, blurry vision, and ringing in the ears catches up to you in a matter of days. Still, all head injuries of all severities require caution and care.
TBI is not a new phenomenon. Entertainers have been amusing us with blows to the head for a very long time. But it has gained notoriety in recent years with increased attention on the types of brain damage associated with sports and recreation. Although nothing beats exercise for staying in shape, the downside is that sports and recreation contribute to TBIs.
For children alone, the CDC estimates that 283,000 are treated for head injuries in U.S. Emergency Departments each year. At least 45 percent of these visits are associated with contact sports, including basketball, soccer, and football.
Other major causes of TBIs include car accidents (responsible for 50-70 percent of all cases) and slip-and-fall scenarios (48 percent of all TBI-related ER visits in 2014). In fact, falls are the leading cause of brain injury death for those 65 years of age and older. Violence, such as Shaken Baby Syndrome and self-inflicted wounds, can result in TBI, while other cases involve getting struck by or against an object. Injuries may occur spontaneously from a brain hemorrhage or subdural hematoma.
Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries
There are many different types of head injuries. One can suffer a mild cut that needs no medical care or something far more severe like a deep wound, fractured skull or brain damage, according to the Columbia University Department of Neurology. Since the inner workings of the brain are invisible, a doctor or hospital visit is often key. Here are some types of brain trauma seen in the ER:
Concussions: The most common type of TBI is a concussion. In fact, it’s so common that for many years the general medical approach to the injury was to tell a patient to, “Grin and bear it.” This approach can have serious consequences. If you’ve ever watched a football game or sat ringside for a boxing match, you’ve probably seen the downside of these popular sports. When that star player is tackled hard and remains on the ground as anxious stadium fans look on, there’s a good chance that, even with a helmet, one of the things he has suffered is a concussion.
Typically caused by a fall or strong blow to the head neck or upper body, a concussion makes the gelatin-like brain slide back and forth forcefully against the inner walls of the skull, which can affect brain function. You may have experienced a concussion yourself and be familiar with the sleep struggles; mood changes; physical ailments like headache, nausea and dizziness; or difficulty with thinking and memory that often go along with it.
Perhaps you went to the hospital and learned that you should be monitored. This is because while many recover from concussions with careful activity within a few days, there is always the risk of complications interfering with the healing process, like a blood clot (aka intracranial hematoma) forming on the brain.
Post-Concussion Syndrome: An estimated 10 percent of high school athletes who suffer concussions will be diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, a disorder that can extend the headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and other initial symptoms for a year or more. It is not certain why these symptoms last so long in some but not others. There seems to be no link between post-concussion syndrome and the severity of the initial injury.
Second-Impact Syndrome: If someone sustains a second head injury while still recovering from an initial injury, the consequences can be a severe. TBI with rapidly progressing symptoms that can lead to unconsciousness—even death. Dilated pupils, loss of eye movement, and respiratory failure are all symptoms of second-impact syndrome (SIS)—a condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Although a relatively rare occurrence, this preventable trauma is getting lots of attention these days as it most commonly strikes male adolescents in connection with sports like football and hockey. The fatality rate runs as high as 50 percent, and for those who survive, SIS can mean permanent disability. Ironically, the second impact can occur weeks after the first head trauma and it doesn’t take a major blow to create a devastating buildup of intracranial pressure. In boxing, the cumulative effect of multiple head injuries is sometimes called punch drunk syndrome,
Intracranial Hematomas: Often associated with a skull fracture, intracranial hematomas (ICH) are the rupture of a blood vessel leading to the buildup of blood in brain tissues or empty spaces. There are several different types of ICH, or blood clots, ranging from mild to life-threatening. Skull fractures of various types can not only injure the brain but also lead to infection.
Contusions (Coup-Countercoup Injuries): In the same way a knee or elbow can become purple after a fall, your brain tissue can also get bruised. A contusion, or a coup-contrecoup injury, is often double trouble, bruising the brain in two places: the point of impact and the opposite side as well. It’s the motion, classic in a car accident, that accounts for what can be a serious injury. Any time the head shoots forward in an accelerated motion then back again in deceleration, the result may be a contusion.
Shearing and tearing affects the brain’s internal lining, tissues, and blood vessels. The result is often internal bleeding, bruising, or swelling. Of course, there is no visible sign of this damage. When it comes to brain trauma, appearances can be deceiving.
Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI): One of the most common and hard-hitting types of TBI, a diffuse axonal injury or DAI usually causes coma and damage to various areas of the brain. Inside the bony skull, the brain shifts and rotates tearing cranial nerve fibers called axons. These brain changes, though devastating, are often microscopic and can be missed on the usual diagnostic tests.
Traumatic Epilepsy: Seizures can develop from a head trauma, most commonly from injuries that are severe and penetrating. They can occur at the time of the accident and over the following year but sometimes also resurface years later
Long and Short-Term Effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries
Often when a patient is dealing with TBI, they’re struggling to recover from not only the primary injury, but a secondary injury as well. The ‘primary’ injury is the sudden injury that occurs at time of impact. The ‘secondary’ injury can evolve over hours to days, in a series of cellular, chemical, tissue, or blood vessel changes that occur in the brain, and contribute to further destruction of brain tissue.
Like a fingerprint the effects of a TBI are completely individual. For example, someone with a contusion may or may not fully recover. The long-term effects of a contusion and other brain damage can upset all facets of life Including language and communication abilities, cognitive abilities, perception, personality, and social skills to name a few. Someone with cognitive deficits could suffer from coma, confusion, memory problems, and amnesia. If the problem is a functional deficit, they may be unable to drive or perform daily activities. Not only does it take a toll on relationships with family and friends, but it can take away meaningful employment and reduce income.
Take the example of champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce of Vermont, who was practicing for the Olympics when he took a dive on Dec. 31, 2009 that changed his entire life. To what extent? He says, “360 degrees.” These snowboard feats soar an athlete through the air at great heights; a fall is even more dramatic. Pearce slammed his face into the ice resulting in a severe TBI. And instead of heading to the Olympics, he was on a journey of extensive rehab, targeting physical and memory issues. Balance also became a struggle for this former champion of dexterity, who was able to snowboard again two years later in Colorado.
TBI Law & Compensation
If you were the victim of a car accident, workplace mishap or other catastrophe that has left you disabled and unable to resume your normal lifestyle and responsibilities, you may be wondering how to seek worker’s compensation, or other financial support to help pay for any damages.
The legal issues involving a traumatic brain injury can be as complicated as the types of brain damage themselves. Often the victim, because of their disability, is not able to fight for compensation alone. Brain damage may have left them confused and with scant memory of what occurred. Routine diagnostic tests may show little of the cranial damage that has changed their life. With so much at stake, victims and their families should consider a TBI lawyer who can help navigate the system to receive compensation for lost wages and abilities. The best time to act is immediately following any hospitalization or change in lifestyle relating to brain trauma.
According to Coping with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, by Diane Roberts Stoler, EdD, and Barbara Albers Hill, “Not only do you need money for daily living expenses, but after MTBI, you are likely to need money to finance a rehabilitation process that can last for some time — in some cases, for years. It is not always easy to navigate the maze of red tape and paperwork required, but help is available to most people with MTBI through commercial insurance, health insurance, government assistance, workers’ compensation, and victims’ compensation.” They suggest reaching out to a lawyer experienced in TBI or getting help from a brain health advocate. TBI is a journey no one should go through alone.
Contact a TBI Lawyer in New York
If you or a loved one is suffering from a traumatic brain injury and are considering seeking legal help for receiving legal compensation, call the personal injury lawyers at Sobo & Sobo for a free consultation. Our TBI attorneys have over 50 years of experience winning head injury lawsuits for clients across the Hudson Valley, and the Bronx. Call 855-468-7626, contact us online, or visit one of our office locations today.