Traumatic Brain Injuries and the Personal Injury Case: What to Expect

Motor vehicle collisions account for about twenty percent of all traumatic brain injuries.  This article gives some basic information these injuries, and the unique legal issues you may encounter if pursuing a claim for traumatic brain injury.

n a rear end collision, a injury to the brain may occur with two impacts.  First, the head is thrown backwards, and the brain, suspended within the skull, strikes the back of the cranium, and is bruised.  The secondary impact occurs when the brain is thrown foward, and strikes the front of the inside of the skull. 

The American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine has developed critera for diagnosing mild traumatic brain injury, which includes trauma to the brain with any one of the following:

  • loss of consciousness less than thirty minutes;
  • loss of memory just before or after the accident, but for less than 24 hours;
  • an alteration of mental state at the time of the accident;
  • focal neurological deficits the may or may not be tansient;
  • Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) 13-15.

The term "neurological" deficit means that there is something a doctor an observe or elicit in a test that shows there is an injury to the nervous system.  For example, dilated pupils, or lack of reflexes may be a focal neurological deficit.

The Glasgow Coma Scale is a rating system that doctors use to determine the level of consciousness in a patient.  The lower the score, the worse the condition.

There are lots of other terms used to describe these injuries, and some are still used currently.  For example, in sports, we still hear the term "concussion" used to describe mild traumatic brain injury.  Other terms include "minor head injury," "post concussive syndrome," or "closed head injury."

Doctors further classify mild traumatic brain injury as either "complicated" or "uncomplicated."  A mild complicated traumatic brain injury may show the same Glasgow score, but will show something on an imaging study like an MRI or a CT scan.  This could include a depressed skull fracture, bleeding, bruising, or swelling.  There is still discussion of what should be included in the criteria for complicated mild traumatic brain injury.

Common symptoms of traumatic brain injury include headache, reduced memory, double vision, fatigue, dizziness, even depression and irritability.

There is a lot of controversy in the medical literature about whether traumatic brain injury can cause long term problems.  Some researchers find that persistent traumatic brain injury symptoms are non-existent, and any ongoing issues are psychological, or just plain malingering.  Others feel that traumatic brain injuries are actually under-diagnosed, and that we simply do not have the technology to document the subtle changes that result from these injuries.

For a personal injury claimant, the biggest challenge in pursuing this kind of claim is proof of the injury.  Some doctors simply do not acknowledge any long term effect from such an injury, and proving the connection between a collision and brain injury presents special challenges.

If you have been in a car or truck collision, and have questions about traumatic brain injury or any other medical problem from the collision, call us at 503 325 8600.  We have lots of experience with these kinds of cases, and can help you know where you stand.