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“Do I need a brain injury lawyer?”

I’m Katelyn Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss topics related to personal injury law.

Today’s question comes from a listener who states “my child suffered a brain injury in a crash, the doctor described it as mild, but the symptoms are not mild, they seem to be terrible, do I need a brain injury lawyer?”

Over the years we have counseled lots of people who have suffered what is often called a TBI or traumatic brain injury. Sometimes doctors describe an injury as a mild TBI. The term mild does not mean minor or inconsequential, but is usually meant to distinguish open head injuries, or closed head injuries with internal bleeding, sometimes called a brain bleed. We have helped people with mild TBI claims and major brain injury claims.

But the question is do I need a brain injury lawyer? While the question seems to suggest that the law is different for brain injury victims, I don’t think the caller really meant that. I think the question better put is do I need a lawyer experienced in dealing with claims involving a brain injury? To that question the answer is a definite YES.

The law for a brain injury or a head injury is the same as it is for other personal injury cases. But brain injury cases can be more costly to pursue. Often specialized expert testimony is needed.

Insurance carriers often fight brain injury cases because they hope they can convince a jury that the injury is not real, or that it is exaggerated. They typically do not want to acknowledge that the damages inflicted are quite serious and even life-changing.

Even a simple rear-end motor vehicle collision can cause a concussion that leaves devastating symptoms. Just ask Clark Elliott, Ph.D., a scientist in the field of artificial intelligence, who wrote a book about his experience living with the debilitating effects of a concussion for 8 years before he finally got help from two Chicago-area researchers-clinicians: one an optometrist using neuro-developmental techniques and the other a cognitive restructuring specialist working on brain plasticity. His book is entitled “The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get it Back.”

Traumatic brain injuries are the result of head trauma, broken down into open head injury (skull fracture), closed head injury (concussions, contusions, or intracranial hemorrhage), and a particular type of closed head injury common in rapid deceleration situations like vehicle crashes or sports injuries called diffuse axonal shearing.

The symptoms of a traumatic brain injury are linked to the seriousness of the injury and how much damage is suffered to brain tissue. There are three main types: mild, moderate, and severe.

A mild TBI usually results in minimal or no loss of consciousness, and the symptoms may include headaches, nausea, difficulty sleeping, dizziness, issues with balance, sensory overload, cognitive deficits (such as inability to concentrate, confusion, memory loss, difficulty with word recall, problems reading or writing), vision problems (including blurred vision, abnormal eye movements, poor eye coordination, sensitivity to light, seeing more in two dimensions rather than three, unable to judge distance very well), hearing issues (including sensitivity to sound, partial hearing loss, or ringing in the ears), changes in smell or taste (either increased or decreased sensitivities), physical changes of appetite, sleep, and hormones, and/or fatigue. Even a so-called “mild” TBI can have profound effects on all aspects of a person’s life, including basic tasks of thinking and moving around in the environment. Once a brain has been switched into a fight-or-flight state of alertness and remains there for a great amount of time, life itself becomes overwhelming—with persistent heightened sensitivities to light, sound, and movement.

In a recent issue of JAMA Psychiatry, a study showed that one in five individuals who have sustained a mild head injury will develop mental health conditions, such as depressive disorder, personality changes, and or behavioral abnormalities.

A moderate TBI has similar symptoms, but may also include a longer period of time being unconscious upon injury, seizures or convulsions, extreme headaches, and/or loss of coordination.

The worst of the symptoms are associated with a severe TBI, which often results in slurred speech, agitation, inability to awaken from sleep, weakness or numbness in extremities, or a coma.

Major brain injuries are not hard to diagnose. But, even if there is an open fracture, or clear evidence of injury, doctors need to rely on an MRI or CT scan to identify an intracranial hematoma, hemorrhage or other abnormalities. The degree of injury, however, whether mild or severe or in between, is often hard to diagnose, and doctors often rely on assessing how a patient performs at solving puzzles and other brain skills tests.

Doctors have learned to quantify symptoms and have developed something called the Glasgow Coma Scale which quantifies eye response, verbal response, and motor response on numerical scales from 1-6. Other tests are used to evaluate a patient’s awareness, cognition, behavior, and interaction with the environment.

Recovery from a brain injury is possible, though even mild traumatic brain injuries can cause permanent damage from which the affected individual never fully recovers. Sometimes the symptoms are such that the brain injury victim is disabled by the injury and qualifies for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

In recent years, we have put together a pamphlet for clients and their families that explain treatment options for TBIs. This is helpful for the injured person, as well as the family, and guides them to the many resources available for TBI victims. For too many years, TBI victims have been left as the walking wounded, with symptoms that are medically unverifiable and therefore untreatable. Now, with more studies and resources coming out about the new science of brain plasticity to rewire and retrain the brain, there is hope for TBI victims.

It is key to have an attorney representing you who understands the intricacies and complexities of brain injuries in order to better advocate for you and plead your case.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about your legal rights if you get hurt due to the carelessness of another person, or as a result of substandard medical care, or due to a product defect, construction injury, or any other type of personal injury, please give us a call at (219) 736-9700. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at www.DavidHolubLaw.com – while there make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth”.