FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2010-07-14
Each year, 1.7 million people in the U.S. sustain a traumatic brain injury, or TBI as it is more commonly called. TBIs can result in serious injury or even death. Those who suffer the most severe brain injuries may experience dramatic personality changes and require life-long medical care.
Common Causes and Symptoms of TBIs
TBIs have been defined by the Centers for Disease Control as “any bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts normal brain function.”
TBIs can be mild or severe. Concussions often are referred to as mild brain injuries because they generally are not life threatening. However, the term “mild” can be misleading and those who suffer even one concussion still should seek medical attention for the injury. Studies have shown that those who suffer repeated concussions, like student and professional athletes, can sustain permanent brain damage as a result.
The most common cause of a TBI is falls, especially among children and the elderly. The second most common cause is motor vehicle accidents, followed by being struck by or against a stationary or moving object and assaults.
Even though motor vehicle accidents are the second most common cause of TBIs, they are the leading cause of death related to a head injury. While high-speed collisions may result in severe brain injuries, even low impact crashes can cause mild brain injuries.
For example, a person who is hit from behind by another car traveling as little as 15 to 20 miles per hour may suffer a brain injury from the impact. In fact, whiplash can result not only in a serious neck injury, but also in a mild brain injury because it causes the brain to make contact with the skull as it absorbs the energy from the crash.
It is not uncommon for those who have a concussion or other TBI not to realize that they have one. A person does not need to lose consciousness in order to have suffered a serious brain injury. In some cases, TBI symptoms will not begin to develop until an hour or more after the initial injury. For example, a person who has been in a low-speed car accident may be talking and walking around after the crash and appear physically to be fine.
This is why it is so important for people who have been in a car accident, suffered a serious fall or otherwise hit their heads to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Even though the person may look normal to the casual observer, it is possible that he or she has developed or soon will develop a life-threatening blood clot in the brain. Without immediate detection and treatment, the blood clot can result in death.
Some of the most common symptoms of a TBI include:
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating
- Memory problems
- Numbness, weakness
- Nausea, vomiting
- Dizziness, coordination and balance problems
- Changes in sight, hearing, taste and smell
- Sensitivity to noise and/or light
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Aggression, personality changes, mood swings
- Slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
A person does not have to experience all of these symptoms to have a TBI. However, a person experiencing some of the more serious symptoms, like loss of consciousness, vomiting, slurred speech and numbness, should go to an ER immediately.
Recent Local and National Attention to TBIs
In the last few months, there has been considerable attention given to traumatic brain injuries and what can be done to prevent and treat them, especially for athletes. At the federal level, congressional hearings have been held concerning the incidence of head injuries in professional, college and high school football players. Last year, the NFL adopted a new policy requiring players who had received a concussion to sit out the remainder of the game and/or practice session until they were cleared to play by a medical professional.
At the local level, the Idaho legislature recently passed a law (Kort’s Law) that would require something similar to the NFL policy for high school student athletes. The bill, once enacted, will require that any student athlete 17 years old or younger who suffers or is believed to have suffered a concussion be tested by a medical professional prior to returning to the field. Idaho is the fourth state to pass concussion legislation.
The Department of Defense also is concerned about the growing number of servicemembers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injuries. Current military policy allows servicemembers to decide for themselves whether or not to be evaluated for a potential TBI. Proposed changes, however, would make it mandatory for any veteran who may have suffered a brain injury to receive an initial evaluation of the injury before returning to active duty.
If you have been in a car accident or other type of accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury, you may have legal options available to you. When a person acts carelessly and harms another, he or she may be held legally responsible for any harm caused by his or her negligent acts. The injured person may be entitled to compensation for his or her injuries, including for medical expenses, lost wages and property damage. For more information on your legal rights, contact an experienced lawyer.