As a Kansas City personal injury lawyer who concentrates on representing people hurt in motor vehicle accidents, I have seen a dramatic increase in concussions and mild and moderate brain injury resulting from car and truck collisions. One of the reasons for this is that there are more violent collisions caused by distracted drivers trying to manipulate a cell phone while driving. If you or someone you know has suffered a head or neck injury, I hope the information below will help in obtaining the best possible medical and legal recovery.
Motor Vehicle Accident Concussions
Concussions are classified as “mild traumatic brain injuries,” and a significant number of concussion-related injuries result from car, truck, and motorcycle accidents. In some vehicular collisions, concussions are caused by the head impacting the steering wheel, windshield, window, dash, or door frame. In these cases, there is usually some bruising, cuts, lacerations, or another outward sign of injury. As a result, these types of concussions are often diagnosed early, especially if the victim has been seen in the emergency room.
There are also “whiplash concussions,” which are quite common. These concussions occur without the head making any direct impact with the interior of the vehicle. Instead, the force of impact causes the neck and head to whip forward and backward. Because the brain floats in the skull, a whiplash of the head and neck causes the brain to bounce against the skull. This results in trauma to the brain tissue and produces concussion symptoms.
In either case, accident victims who have sustained concussions usually experience headache and neck pain. Beyond that, it is very common for people to suffer a range of physical, cognitive, or behavioral symptoms that are listed below.
- Physical symptoms include dizziness, nausea, vision difficulties (blurriness, trouble focusing, tracking, or double vision), speech issues, sensitivity to light or noise, and fatigue (sleeping more).
- Cognitive symptoms include memory loss, reduced concentration or difficulty with focus/staying on task, slowed thinking, impaired judgment, and confusion.
- Behavioral symptoms include irritability, mood swings, angry outbursts, restlessness, lack of motivation, or poor impulse control. People who are concussed and exhibit behavioral or emotional instability often don’t notice or recognize the symptoms. In many cases, it is a spouse or family member who is in the best position to identify odd behavior or emotional instability.
Because it is essential to report these symptoms as soon as possible to your doctor, you can use this handy Head Injury Symptom checklist to help identify specific symptoms that may go unreported. This is the same form I use with our new clients who suffer a sudden onset of concussion.
Keep in mind that when the physical, cognitive, or behavioral symptoms DO NOT resolve (or substantially improve) within a week after the onset of a concussion, it is wise to have a medical evaluation with a concussion specialist. Because our law firm has been handling these cases for years, we can provide concussion specialist recommendations in our area.
Please also note that because a concussion is an injury to the brain tissue, the onset of symptoms may be immediate or delayed by hours or days after a sudden onset of the injury. An example of delayed symptoms happened recently with one of our clients.
Following a rear-end car accident, our client went to the emergency room complaining of a headache and neck injury. Several days later, she reported that her headache and neck pain had actually gotten worse. She went to a chiropractor to have her neck evaluated. The chiropractor started rehabilitation treatment, and she came to us to handle the legal claims.
At the first meeting, she said she was experiencing light sensitivity, especially when out in the sunlight. This clued us to the fact that she probably sustained a concussion. The bottom line is that she is now with a concussion specialist and receiving special treatments, including vestibular therapy, to resolve her vision issues.
Concussions, of course, have varying degrees of severity, and the most critical objective is medical recovery. Medical recovery largely depends on the degree of swelling and damage to the brain cells called “neurons.” Neurons are brain cells that perform cellular functions, including sending messages to other parts of the brain and body. When the brain neurons are damaged, the neurons either die (which could result in the loss of certain abilities), recover on their own, or new neurons replace the damaged neurons and establish new connections.
When concussion symptoms continue to persist, a doctor likely will diagnose post-concussion syndrome. At this point, a complete neurological evaluation will be done to assess the following:
- Strength and sensation
Cognitive testing is also done to evaluate your thinking, including memory, concentration, and ability to recall information. During the post-concussive stage, there must be constant observation. In our cases, a spouse, family member, or significant other is the person that can keep us informed. In some cases, we have hired a home health care aide to help check in on our client. We want to make sure we are keeping up on all issues.
It is also at this stage that we can assess rehabilitation efforts. Often, rehabilitation does not make the problem go away but is geared toward training the patient to cope with the physical, cognitive, or behavioral symptoms they experience. This impacts our client’s quality of life in a significant way.
The Legal Consultation & Recovery
Clearly, medical recovery is the most important consideration in any legal case. Early legal consultation can often help secure a proper medical evaluation, which is most certainly true in a concussion case.
Right from the start, in early legal consultation, we can identify all the symptoms and make sure there is a proper medical workup. We can also take care of the immediate issues surrounding a car accident, including making sure we establish the parties at fault and insurance coverages. This is so important right at the outset of a case involving a concussion because a concussion injury not only results in high medical bills but also involves loss of income, loss of health, pain, suffering, discomfort, and a loss in quality of life.
The settlement in these cases needs to be fair and full. That is because we also have to account for the fact that a concussion does have longer-range effects. Most people know now that if you have sustained a concussion, a subsequent concussion will cause much more damage to the brain.