A regular part of my personal injury practice over the last 36 years involves people who suffered brain injuries. These are somewhat euphemistically known as “head injuries” or “closed head injuries.” This is often a major component of an injured person’s damages. It can be easily overlooked by a lawyer who is not familiar with the symptoms and circumstances that can lead to brain injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 3.8 million Americans who suffer reported concussions every year. There is undoubtedly a multiple of that number that goes unreported. There is growing attention to the problem because of the well documented cases of professional football players and boxers who have died prematurely, showing accumulated brain injuries on autopsy. There are about 100,000 high school football players who are fully knocked out every year. It is not like the old western movies. When a person is knocked out there is almost inevitably some degree of a brain injury. But the real problem is that a lot of brain injury cases involve situations in which the person does not lose consciousness. Turning to college football, it is estimated that the average college football player suffers almost a thousand subconcussive head injuries each season. “Subconcussive” means there is damage to the brain but not enough to cause symptoms. Often these repeated blows cause accumulative damage. In fact, the experts estimate that only 10% of real concussions include loss of consciousness. Damages to the brain often get caused when there isn’t even a blow to the head. This is because of the physics of the causation of brain injury. Whenever the head is jerked suddenly the soft tissue of the brain bounces back and forth inside the skull creating damages. Obviously this can be when the head hits something and gets stopped by a windshield or by another football player’s body but it often occurs when there is a whiplash of the head as when a car is hit from any direction. Football coaches are learning that a good way to diagnosis a head injury is when a player complains of neck pain.
Sometimes there are symptoms that develop immediately or very rapidly following a head injury. Symptoms include a loss of consciousness, even momentary, headaches, vomiting, dizziness, problems with balance, hypersensitivity to outside stimulus such as light or noise, confusion, loss of emotional control such as anger and especially, amnesia. If a person cannot remember being in an accident it is a sure sign of brain injury.
Over time there is a whole list of symptoms of brain injury. Short-term memory loss is one of the most significant. This means persons cannot remember things they just heard, saw or read. Usually long-term memory is not affected by a head injury but the ability to learn new things and remember recent events is affected. An inability to focus is another symptom. So is loss of emotional control including spontaneous crying or anger. Word finding problems or problems remembering a person’s name that one should know are additional signs of brain injury.
As one neuropsychologist said in regard to head injuries suffered by young people: an injury to their brain is not like a knee injury or an injury to any other body part, it is an injury to their future.