A Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), sometimes called an intracranial injury, is a broad term for a variety of medical conditions stemming from some external force either to the head or body which jolts the head and causes damage to the brain. The brain is usually suspended in the skull and protected by cerebrospinal fluid, but when there is sufficient external force, it can be pushed against the inner wall of the skull, causing bleeding or tearing. Every year in the United States, 1.6 million people on average sustain a traumatic brain injury. Of these, 80,000 results in neurological disability and 52,000 results in death.
Although a wide variety of events may lead to a TBI, there are certain common incidents which initiate the majority of traumatic brain injuries. The leading cause of TBIs is falling, which more often affects young children and the elderly. The second most common cause is automobile accidents, followed by high-impact sports or recreation-related incidents, and then violent assault. TBIs can also be caused by falls, bicycle or pedestrian collisions, and child abuse.
Diagnosis and Classifications
TBIs are generally diagnosed using a CT (computed tomography) scan or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan. A CT will take multiple X-rays to compose a detailed picture of the entire brain, revealing swelling, bleeding, or bruising. An MRI scan uses powerful radio waves and a magnetic field to create an image of the brain. The doctor may also inject a possible TBI patient with a dye to distinguish healthy from damaged tissue. An intracranial pressure monitor may also be implemented. For this, a probe is inserted into the skull to monitor pressure and alert the physician to any possible swelling of the brain, which can worsen the condition.
Injuries of this kind are classified into mild, moderate, or severe, and are measured on a scale indicating the level of consciousness of the victim, called the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). This scale is made up of three parts, measuring verbal response, motor response, and eye response on three separate numerical scales. The three numbers are then combined to estimate the level of consciousness on a scale from 3 to 15. The numbers represent a range of possible symptoms, with 3 indicating a vegetative state or coma, and 13-15 possibly indicating mild trauma, such as a concussion.
Symptoms of Mild TBIs
Mild TBIs can often be misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed altogether. According to the Mayo Clinic, physical symptoms of mild TBIs include
- Loss of consciousness for a few seconds to a few minutes
- No loss of consciousness, but a state of being dazed, confused or disoriented
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sleeping more than usual
- Dizziness or loss of balance
Sensory problems that may indicate a mild TBI can also include blurred vision, a bad taste in the mouth, ringing ears, and/or sensitivity to light or sound. One may also feel anxious or depressed, experience mood swings, and have trouble concentrating or remembering things.
Although “mild” by comparison, these injuries must still be diagnosed quickly and correctly in order for the patient to make as successful a recovery as possible. Symptoms of a mild traumatic brain injury may not appear in the victim until days or even weeks after the inciting accident. The person may be acting completely normal, despite not feeling normal, and symptoms may be missed by close friends and family.
Symptoms of Moderate to Severe TBIs
Moderate brain injuries usually include a loss of consciousness for 20 minutes to 6 hours, while severe ones result in a loss of consciousness for more than 6 hours. There is an enormous range of possible symptoms which can help a physician diagnose the severity of the injury. Physical symptoms include:
- Loss of consciousness from several minutes to hours
- Persistent headache or a headache that worsens
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Convulsions or seizures
- Dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes
- Clear fluids draining from the nose or ears
- Inability to awaken from sleep
- Weakness or numbness in fingers and toes
- Loss of coordination
Mental symptoms may also include deep confusion, combativeness or agitation, defensiveness, lowered inhibitions, slurred speech, and/or permanent or semi-permanent altered state of consciousness such as a coma. In addition, people experiencing mild to moderate TBIs may also have sensory symptoms, like light and sound sensitivity, blurred vision, ringing ears, or a bad taste in the mouth, along with the inability to control their motor movements, interpret temperatures or discern distances to complete basic tasks.
Immediate and Long Term Treatment
TBI treatment depends heavily on the severity of the injury. 1% of patients with a TBI require brain surgery, while the majority are never hospitalized. The most important factor in TBI treatment is to take steps to prevent the injury from worsening and limit brain damage as aggressively as possible. Immediate emergency care is also vital to a positive outcome. Treatments might include medications. Diuretics are used to increase urine output and reduce fluid in the body, therefore reducing swelling. Anti-seizure drugs may be administered or prescribed to reduce the chance of additional injury. Coma-inducing drugs may also be used to reduce brain activity and allow the brain to recover and eventually heal with less oxygen required.
Additionally, TBI patients may need extensive rehabilitation and therapy. Speech and language pathologists can help the patient relearn to communicate, while occupational and physical therapists can work with them to improve their motor functioning. Social services that may assist with rehabilitation include vocational counselors, who can help a person address new workplace challenges, and social workers, who can manage the someone's access to services and connect them to professionals that may assist them. In addition, TBI recovery can include treatment by neuropsychologists, counselors, recreational therapists, and rehabilitation nurses.
How to Bring a TBI Claim
TBI claims can fall into multiple categories. If you were injured in an automobile accident, by slipping and falling, or through violent assault, your case will be a personal injury claim against an automaker or driver, the owner who maintains a property, or the assailant. As in all personal injury cases, there may be other parties responsible, such as a school district, a sporting league, or police force. Alternatively, disease-induced or labor-induced TBIs may fall under the category of medical malpractice suits, which allege that doctors, nurses, or technicians provided treatment below a certain standard of care.
When bringing a traumatic brain injury claim, it is important to thoroughly evaluate the true expenses associated with the incident. Expenses from traumatic brain injuries can be astronomical. They can include not only immediate medical care, surgery, and hospital time, but also long-term rehabilitation, cognitive and physical therapy, counseling, and loss of future ability to work, which may additionally necessitate financial support for family members.
Typical brain injury cases are over $100,000, and often reach millions of dollars. This is because awards must be used to cover multiple expenses. TBI cases require extensive research, testimony from independent expert witnesses, access to medical records, court fees, and interviews of all witnesses. On average, around half of an award will go directly to the client.
Economic damages awarded will come from three main categories: loss of earning capacity, life care costs, and pain and suffering/loss of enjoyment of life after injury. Loss of earning capacity will necessitate a vocational expert who will testify as to the plaintiff's physical and cognitive impairments that may make him or her unable to perform in the workplace, perform at lower efficiency, or for fewer hours. This annual amount of calculated lost earning capacity will be multiplied for as many years as the plaintiff is projected to have worked in a lifetime.
Lifecare costs include all professional care and future medical expenses that a TBI sufferer may need over the course of their remaining lifetime. Often a spouse or loved one will provide the majority of day to day care, but they can still be awarded compensation for this task. Emotional pain and suffering can be much harder to quantify and varies widely from case to case. Some jurisdictions will allow an expert to testify on the loss of enjoyment in life, using economic studies which quantify the discrepancy in quality of life after an injury. These people are called “hedonic damage experts.”
Representation for Colorado Victims of Traumatic Brain Injury
An attorney experienced in fighting for compensation for traumatic brain injury victims can greatly increase the chance for a positive outcome and will work to maximize your potential award. Although nothing can truly compensate you for the difficulties of sustaining life-altering injuries, financial support can give you the peace of mind you need in order to deal with the mental and physical effects of head trauma. At the Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal, we know how devastating brain injuries can be and we will explore every possible avenue for getting you the compensation you deserve. Call us today at 303.825.2223 for a free consultation on your case or contact us online.