The brain is the organ responsible for everything that makes a person human - emotion, intelligence, consciousness, movement, and sensation. It's for this reason that brain injury is so often life-altering. Brain injury can harm the very essence of a person and may stifle future growth opportunities.
Of course, there are many types of brain injuries, some more serious than others. Depending on the type of brain injury, the seriousness of the injury, and the extent to which such injury has affected a plaintiff's life and work opportunities, a plaintiff with a legitimate claim may be eligible for a substantial damages award.
Brain injuries are typically separated into two broad categories: traumatic brain injury and acquired brain injury. While traumatic brain injuries are caused by the application of an external force to the head, acquired brain injury is caused by other conditions such as a stroke, tumors, disease, toxin exposure, and oxygen deprivation.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injuries may be closed or open (skull fracture). They are caused by an external force. Typically, these types of brain injury arise in personal injury cases (slip and fall, motor vehicle accident, etc.), criminal law cases (assault and battery), and workplace accident cases. Traumatic brain injuries include concussions, contusions, diffuse axonal injuries, and penetration injuries.
Concussions are the most common type of traumatic brain injury, and are caused by direct impact trauma to the head, whether by falling, getting punched or kicked or shot, shaking, whiplash in a car, or any number of other possible incidences. Though concussions are often accompanied by a loss of consciousness, loss of consciousness is not a necessary result of a concussion. It's possible to have suffered a concussion with only non-obvious symptoms - confusion, dizziness, and a foggy mind. If you've suffered direct impact trauma to your head and think you may have had a concussion, you should see a doctor. Severe concussions can result in permanent damage.
Contusions, like concussions, are also caused by direct impact trauma to the head. A contusion is essentially localized bleeding in the brain. Contusions may need to be surgically removed, as blood clot formation at the contusion site can be lethal. There may also be contusions apart from the direct impact site. A coup-contrecoup contusion is when the force of impact is so great that the brain slams into the opposite side of the skull, creating a second contusion on the second point of impact.
Diffuse Axonal Injuries
Diffuse axonal injury is caused by severe shaking or rotational forces, which creates tears in the brain structures as the skull shears the edges of the brain. This tearing creates neuro-chemical disruptions throughout the brain and may result in permanent brain damage, coma, or death. Depending on which brain structures were torn, symptoms can be quite varied. There may be motor function disruption, memory disruption, motor sensation disruption, olfactory disruption, and more.
Penetration injuries are caused by sharp objects entering the skull and brain. When the object goes through the brain, there may be lost tissue (that exits the skull), shearing, tearing, and rupturing of accessory tissue. This can be fatal or may cause significant and long-term effects.
Acquired Brain Injury
Acquired brain injuries aren't necessarily dependent on an external application of force. That's not to say that acquired brain injuries aren't "caused" by others. There are personal injury and criminal law cases of acquired brain injury - for instance, drowning incidents and strangulation incidents. However, plaintiffs in acquired brain injury cases more frequently bring lawsuits against the medical provider, who may have worsened the condition, or who may not have addressed the condition properly before permanent injury was caused.
For example, a plaintiff may have a stroke at his house and be transported to the nearest hospital. At the hospital, the physician may not adhere to the reasonable standard of care and may, in the process, allow the injury (oxygen deprivation) to continue long enough to cause permanent damage where it otherwise would have been prevented by efficient action. The plaintiff will, therefore, have a medical malpractice claim against the physician and the hospital for his or her acquired brain injury.
There are two common acquired brain injuries, anoxia and hypoxic brain injury:
Anoxia is caused by oxygen deprivation such that the brain doesn't receive any oxygen. Within a relatively short timespan, cell death occurs, which can result in serious functional damage to different brain systems and possible death. There are different kinds of anoxia, which include anoxic (standard anoxia), anemic (blood isn't carrying oxygen), and toxic (toxins are blocking oxygen use), among others.
Hypoxic Brain Injury
Hypoxic brain injury is similar to anoxia, except that the oxygen deprivation is not absolute. With a hypoxic brain injury, the brain receives some oxygen, but the oxygen levels are still dangerously unsatisfactory. Like anoxia, cell death may still occur, though at a slower rate. The eventual cell death, if left untreated, may also result in functional damage and possible death.
Liability for a Brain Injury
As seen above, the types of brain injuries are varied. A plaintiff may fall and suffer a serious concussion without ever becoming unconscious. Always be aware of potential damage since the traumatic effects of a brain injury may not be immediately obvious. If you think you may have had a brain injury, you should seek medical help as soon as possible.
Once you've received medical care, it's in your best interests to consult with an attorney about your legal options. The statute of limitations, or time limit on filing a suit, will begin to run from the date of injury. While the discovery rule in most states allows you to bring a claim if you haven't discovered or known about the injury, this is up to court interpretation. The court may find that you should have known about your brain injury, and therefore, that the statute of limitations will not be tolled for your claim. It, therefore, benefits you to diagnose your brain injury issues as soon as possible and to seek a qualified attorney.
Learn more about the law on our brain injury legal answers page.
Contact a qualified auto accident attorney to make sure your rights are protected.