Traumatic brain injury (TBI) describes injury to the brain that results from a sudden trauma or blow to the head.
Common causes of brain injuries include falling, motor vehicle collisions, being struck in the head with an object, and striking one's head against an object. Brain injuries may result from accidents, sporting activities, military combat, and explosive blasts.
TBI may occur when the head collides with an object, or where an object pierces the skull and penetrates into the brain. Depending upon the extent of the injury that results, brain damage may be mild, moderate or severe.
People who have experienced a prior brain injury may be more susceptible to a subsequent injury, or to a cumulative injury in the event of repeated trauma. The cumulative effect of brain injuries is most pronounced when a new injury occurs before the prior injury has completely healed.
Open and Closed Head Injuries
A head injury may be open or closed:
Open Head Injury: Injury involves a skull fracture or the penetration of the skull by an object.
Closed Head Injury: Injury occurs without any fracture or penetration of the skull.
Open head injuries are very serious, and may result in significant long-term disability, permanent disability or death.
Although a closed head injury does not involve a fracture of the skull, a brain injury resulting from a closed head injury may potentially be greater than the injury from an open head injury. In a closed head injury, after the initial trauma, pressure from swelling or from blood accumulation or blood clots inside of the skull may cause damage to the brain.
Mild Traumatic Brain Injury
Although the consequences of any brain injury may be significant, mild traumatic train injury (MTBI) describes less serious brain injury.
The term, "mild", refers to the effect of the injury on brain function. A MTBI involves the disruption of normal brain function that is not life-threatening, while a more serious brain injury involves a more serious injury to brain tissue that may result in long-term disability or death.
A person who experiences MTBI may not lose consciousness, or may only briefly lose consciousness.
Symptoms of MBTI may include:
Headaches and Dizziness: A MTBI may be followed by headaches, nausea, dizziness, loss of balance, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and feelings of lightheadedness;
Visual Changes: MTBI may result in visual disturbances including blurred vision.
Memory and Concentration: A MTBI may cause feelings of confusion, and may affect memory, ability to concentrate, and thinking;
Fatigue: MTBI may be followed by feelings of fatigue, drowsiness or lethargy, and may affect sleeping patterns;
Behavior and Mood: A MTBI may be followed by mood changes, including depression and anxiety, or mood swings.
Other Symptoms: MTBI may cause a bad taste in the mouth, change the ability to smell, or trigger sensitivity to sound or light.
It is important not to underestimate the severity of a possible brain injury, and to obtain appropriate medical care for the injury. It is possible for a brain injury that appears to be minor to develop into a more significant, life-threatening injury due to such factors as the subsequent swelling of the brain or the development of a blood clot within the skull that causes pressure on the brain.
Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury
A moderate to severe TBI may involve all of the symptoms of a MTBI, but will involve more significant symptoms that appear after the trauma, or develop during a period of hours or days after the initial trauma.
Those additional symptoms may include:
Loss of Consciousness: Loss of consciousness for a period of minutes, hours, or longer, coma, or inability to wake from sleep;
Headaches and Loss of Coordination: A persistent or worsening headache, or loss of coordination;
Pupil Dilation: Dilation of one or both pupils.
Nausea: Persistent nausea or repeated vomiting;
Convulsions and Seizures: Changes in the electrical activity of the brain that result in symptoms ranging from loss of attention or consciousness to uncontrollable muscle spasms with twitching and jerking throughout the entire body;
Behavior and Mood: Confusion, agitation, combativeness, restlessness, or unusual behavior.
Other Symptoms: Clear fluid draining from the nose, weakness or numbness in the extremities, slurred speech, changes in posture, changes in blood pressure and respiration, difficulty swallowing, and paralysis.
As a moderate to severe brain injury may result in permanent disability or death, it is crucial to obtain prompt and appropriate medical care.
Brain Injury Symptoms in Children
It may be more difficult to assess a brain injury in an infant or small child, due to the child's lack of ability to communicate or accurately describe symptoms resulting from an injury.
Possible signs of a brain injury in infants and younger include:
- changes in eating patterns or habits,
- unusual irritability,
- persistent crying and inconsolability,
- changes in attention patterns,
- changes in sleep patterns,
- changes in mood including depression or sadness,
- loss of recently acquired skills,
- loss of balance or unsteady walking, or
- a loss of interest in activities or the child's favorite toys.
The most common causes of brain injury are fall injuries, motor vehicle accidents, and incidents involving the head being struck by an object or the striking of the head against an object.
Accidents and Negligence
Many of the incidents that cause brain injury result from the negligence or carelessness of others. For example:
Motor Vehicle Accidents: The driver or occupant of a motor vehicle may experience a brain injury after a collision caused by the negligence of another person, or due to a defect within the vehicle such as a faulty airbag;
Fall Injuries: A trip and fall, slip and fall, or fall down a flight of stairs may result in negligence in the design or maintenance of the location where the fall occurred;
Sports Injuries: Although most sport injuries are risks inherent to the sport, that is not always the case. For example, sometimes an intentional assault will occur in a sporting event that results in liability and, particularly for sports activities involving minors, sometimes the lack of appropriate care following an initial sports-related injury will result in a more severe injury.
Bicycle Accidents: A bicyclist may be injured as a result of negligence by people including motorists, pedestrians and dog owners, or through negligent road design or maintenance.
On-the-Job Accidents: Brain injuries may occur during job activities and as the result of industrial accidents.
Medical Malpractice: Brain injury may result from improper medical care, including birth injuries and the inadequate treatment of traumatic injury.
Brain injury may also result from exposure to toxic substances, such as to exposure to lead in water or from lead-based paint.
Most brain injury lawsuits result from injuries caused by acts of negligence, mistakes or misconduct by others that is not intended to cause harm, but nonetheless poses risk to others and results in harm to the plaintiff.
Many brain injuries are also caused by intentional acts, including assaults, domestic violence, and attacks with weapons and firearms, and even accidents with air guns. Child abuse is a frequent cause of brain injury to children.
Consulting a Lawyer
People who have suffered a brain injury and, for more severe injuries or injured children, their caregivers must be diligent.
If another person or business may be at fault for the injury, it is best to consult a personal injury lawyer early in the recovery process. An injury lawyer will review the facts of the case for possible theories of liability, and can make sure that a claim is pursued before the statute of limitations runs.
Once the statute of limitations runs out, no matter how severe the injury, the injured person will no longer be able to recover compensation from the responsible parties.
The damages that may be recovered in a brain injury case may include:
Lost Wages: A person who experiences a brain injury may miss work and thus have a claim for lost wages.
Lost Earning Capacity: For brain injuries with residual symptoms, an injured person may have a claim based upon a future reduction in income or the loss of ability to earn income.
Medical Expenses: The cost of treating and stabilizing the initial injury.
Pain and Suffering: Brain injuries may involve pain and suffering claims both for the acute stage of treatment and recovery, during which the initial injury is treated and stabilized, and for the consequences of the injury on their life, including future pain, disability, emotional distress, and impact on family relationships.
Future Care: Brain injuries may result in a need for long-term care, both to assist the injured person with activities of daily life, and for future medical needs, including the cost of care by doctors, physical rehabilitation, and cognitive and psychological therapy. Future costs may potentially include home renovations for purposes of accessibility, assistive devices, and medical equipment.
In a wrongful death case, damages may also include funeral and burial expenses.
The spouse or child of an injured person's household may be able to bring an action for loss of consortium, society or companionship - the loss of their prior, normal relationship with their loved one.