Brain Injury Legal Information
 

Overview

Brain injury lawyers represent people who are pursuing legal action because they sustained a serious brain injury. Most often, this injury came from an accident, but it could also have come from a medical mistake, violence or other incidents. These lawyers help their clients sue the people responsible for their injuries for money to help them get the treatment they need and support themselves financially.

Some brain injury lawyers specialize in cases involving brain injuries. These lawyers are familiar with the complicated nature of brain-injury cases: The types of injuries, how they could affect the victim’s health and future, and how to account for the full costs of medical treatment and other damages. Other brain injury lawyers are general personal injury lawyers who represent brain injury patients along with other types of injured people. Either type of brain injury lawyer may be right for you.

 

“What types of injuries are brain injuries?"

Brain injuries can be divided into two types. Traumatic brain injuries come from some type of outside trauma like a gunshot or a blunt object hitting the head. Brain injuries that aren’t traumatic come from an illness, chemical exposure or a lack of blood and oxygen to the brain. Both types lead to the death of important and irreplaceable brain tissue, which can have a dramatic effect on the patient’s ability to function.

Traumatic brain injuries are by far the more common type of injury, affecting 1.4 million Americans each year. They’re caused by accidental traumas like falls, automobile accidents, violent crimes and sports injuries. In a traumatic brain injury (TBI), the victim’s skull is either penetrated by a sharp object or hit very hard against something. The mildest form of TBI is a concussion. More serious injuries may lead to prolonged loss of consciousness, headaches, problems with sound and vision, nausea, lightheadedness, persistent mood problems and trouble thinking clearly.

Non-traumatic brain injuries damage the brain without a violent incident. Frequently, this happens when something stops most oxygen from flowing to the brain: a stroke, complications during a birth, or an illness like meningitis. In some cases, exposure to toxic chemicals can also deprive the brain of oxygen. Without oxygen, the brain’s cells die fairly quickly. This can cause a wide and hard-to-predict variety of problems for the patient: Mental disability, trouble with physical movement, mental illness, socially inappropriate behavior, seizures, muscle spasms and more.

 

"How does a brain injury affect a person's life?"

The brain controls nearly everything about a person: Voluntary and involuntary movements, mental health, cognitive abilities, personality, emotion, language and sensory perceptions. For that reason, a brain injury could affect any of those functions, alone or in tandem. It’s frequently hard to predict what effects a brain injury will have on the victim. Generally, however, the longer the victim stayed unconscious, the more severe the brain injury will probably be.

Only about 25% of traumatic brain injury victims have long-term effects, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The effects of TBI are slightly easier to predict because traumatic brain injuries are often localized. In fact, if the TBI is focal -- contained in one area of the brain -- doctors may be able to predict what functions could be affected. The opposite of a focal TBI is a diffuse TBI, in which several areas of the brain are affected. Diffuse TBIs are more likely with concussions and with injuries that result from shaking, such as Shaken Baby Syndrome.

The effects of a non-traumatic brain injury are harder to predict because each case is unique, even when the symptoms have the same name. For example, cerebral palsy -- a disorder caused by lack of oxygen to the brain while a child is very young -- is considered a group of conditions. Cerebral palsy sufferers generally have trouble with motor skills -- moving, holding things and so forth -- but sometimes also have a mental disability. Similarly, a stroke, which is caused by an interruption of blood to the brain, can affect motor skills, but also memory, emotions, speech, vision loss, pain and more.

On a practical level, this can have several important effects on the victim and his or her family:

The victim may need several surgeries or other expensive medical treatment right after the accident.
The victim may struggle with activities that don’t pose problems for others.
If there’s a permanent disability, the victim may need long-term therapy or permanent, round-the-clock help with basic tasks.
Disabled children may need special schools or special accommodations at school.
The victim may not be able to work anymore, thus losing financial self-sufficiency and the ability to support a family.
The victim may not be able to fully enjoy the things he or she once enjoyed.
Family members may lose the love and care of a parent, spouse, sibling or child.

 

“Could I have an undiagnosed brain injury after my accident?"

Yes; in fact, it’s common for people with mild brain injuries not to realize at first that they’ve been injured. In some cases, victims don’t notice the effects of a brain injury right away because they’re distracted by shock or more immediate concerns. In other cases, symptoms truly don’t set in until later. If you hit your head during an accident and don’t remember what happened directly afterward, it’s possible that you even blacked out for a very short time. If you have headaches, dizziness, nausea, lack of energy, memory problems, mood problems or trouble thinking clearly, it’s even more likely that you have a TBI.

Many people don’t follow up on these symptoms because they can still function, and because they don’t want to be seen as hypochondriacs. There are two very important reasons to see a doctor anyway if you think you might have an undiagnosed brain injury. One is that time matters. The sooner you get treatment, the better your chance of alleviating the effects of a brain injury on your mind and your life. The second is to preserve the evidence in case you decide to pursue legal action. In a court, the other side may try to use any delay in seeking treatment -- no matter how reasonable it seemed at the time -- to show that you are not truly injured.

 

"Can several concussions 'add up'?"

Yes. This is called second-impact syndrome by some experts. Once the brain is injured once, it’s more vulnerable to future injuries in the same place. The effects can be especially dramatic if the second impact comes within a week or two of the first, before the victim can recover. Research shows that repeated concussions can be much worse than the sum of their individual effects.

The effect of second-impact syndrome is often noted in athletes in high-impact sports like football and hockey. A few victims of multiple concussions have even died on playing fields without warning, of injuries that looked mild to coaches and spectators.

 

“What is the benefit of filing a brain injury lawsuit?"

Brain damage can’t usually be healed. Scientists don’t fully understand how the brain works, and occasionally it does heal, but the vast majority of brain damage is permanent. That means the problems posed by a brain injury will follow a person for life. At its mildest, this can mean the victim may have lifelong trouble with concentration, mood or emotional control. At its most serious, the victim may have trouble with basic movement; memory; thinking and intelligence; speech; mental health; and other functions necessary for daily life. This is devastating, and it’s devastating to watch in someone you care about.

But more immediately for many families, serious brain injuries are very expensive to treat. Ordinary medical bills are hard for many people to pay, but the bills for multiple surgeries, full-time nursing care and other treatment for a brain injury may be overwhelming. If the injured person was earning wages, the household loses that money as well. That’s why so many brain injury victims and their families file brain injury lawsuits. A brain injury lawsuit can win the money for these and other expenses caused by the accident. It can also compensate victims and their families for other, less tangible, losses, like the loss of a father’s love and guidance. Money can’t bring back the injured person’s health, but it can pay for these things, and provide for the victim and his or her family. In fact, in many cases, victims may be able to structure their settlements to ensure a regular, lifelong stipend.

 

Payment

Brain injury lawyers usually work on contingency, a special fee arrangement in which the lawyer doesn’t get paid until the end of the case. Instead, you and the lawyer agree that he or she will be paid with a percentage of your verdict or settlement (the money you win), if there is one. If you don’t win, the brain injury lawyer doesn’t get paid. You may still be asked to pay court costs and administrative fees.

Lawyers who work on contingency believe that the arrangement motivates them to work harder and cut costs. It also allows people who can’t afford high hourly rates to hire an attorney. This can be very useful for a family dealing with a serious brain injury, which can be very expensive and take a wage-earner out of work permanently. For similar reasons, brain injury lawyers almost always offer free consultations, initial meetings at which the lawyer learns about your case and you learn about the lawyer and his or her experience.