Because so many of our personal injury and product liability cases involve serious injuries, we frequently represent clients who are suffering from injuries that are very easy to see as well as injuries that are more insidious and hidden. For example, broken arms or legs are readily apparent but internal injuries are not. Perhaps the most serious hidden internal injury is a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. Each year in Alabama, more than 10,000 individuals sustain traumatic brain injuries. Thankfully, in about 70-75 percent of these situations, the physical recovery is substantial enough for the individual to return to their education or career path. For the other 25 percent, the recovery is tragically incomplete.
Most people are unaware of the scope of TBI or its overwhelming nature. TBI is a common injury and may be missed initially when the medical team is focused on saving the individual’s life. Before medical knowledge and technology advanced to control breathing with respirators and decrease intracranial pressure, which is the pressure in the fluid surrounding the brain, the death rate from traumatic brain injuries was very high. Although the medical technology has advanced significantly, the effects of TBI are significant.
A brain injury can be classified as mild if loss of consciousness and/or confusion and disorientation is shorter than 30 minutes. While MRI and CAT scans are often normal, the individual has cognitive problems such as headache, difficulty thinking, memory problems, attention deficits, mood swings and frustration. These injuries are commonly overlooked. Even though this type of TBI is called “mild”, the effect on the family and the injured person can be devastating. Other names for mild TBI may be concussion, minor head trauma, minor TBI, and minor head or brain injury.
Mild Traumatic Brain Injury is:
Common Symptoms of Mild TBI:
Other Symptoms Associated with Mild TBI:
These symptoms may not be present or noticed at the time of injury. They may be delayed days or weeks before they appear. The symptoms are often subtle and are often missed by the injured person, family and doctors. The person looks normal and often moves normal in spite of not feeling or thinking normal. This makes the diagnosis easy to miss. Family and friends often notice changes in behavior before the injured person realizes there is a problem. Frustration at work or when performing household tasks may bring the person to seek medical care.
Severe brain injury is associated with loss of consciousness for more than 30 minutes and memory loss after the injury or penetrating skull injury longer than 24 hours. The deficits range from impairment of higher level cognitive functions to comatose states. Survivors may have limited function of arms or legs, abnormal speech or language, loss of thinking ability or emotional problems. The range of injuries and degree of recovery is very variable and varies on an individual basis.
The number of people with TBI is difficult to assess accurately but is much larger than most people would expect. According to the CDC (United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there are approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. who suffer from a traumatic brain injury each year. 50,000 people die from TBI each year and 85,000 people suffer long term disabilities. In the U.S., more than 5.3 million people live with disabilities caused by TBI. Patients admitted to a hospital for TBI are included in this count, while those treated in an emergency room or doctor’s office are not counted.
The causes of TBI are diverse. The top three causes are: car accident, firearms and falls. Firearm injuries are often fatal: nine out of 10 people die from their injuries. Young adults and the elderly are the age groups at highest risk for TBI. Along with a traumatic brain injury, persons are also susceptible to spinal cord injuries, which is another type of traumatic injury that can result out of vehicle crashes, firearms and falls. Prevention of TBI is the best approach since there is no cure.
Mechanisms of Injury
These mechanisms are the highest causes of brain injury: Open head Injury, Closed Head Injury, Deceleration Injuries, Chemical/Toxic, Hypoxia, Tumors, Infections and Stroke.
Open Head Injury
Closed Head Injury
Deceleration Injuries (Diffuse Axonal Injury)
Fortunately, hospitals that specialize in care for brain injuries are trained to recognize the symptoms of TBI and are equipped to care for the spectrum of disabilities that often accompany these injuries. The Shepherds Center in Atlanta is one such facility. Many of our clients have received world-class care from the doctors and staff at Shepherds. Several years ago, I was made aware of Alabama Head Injury Foundation (AHIF), a statewide 501(c)3 nonprofit that specifically works with survivors of traumatic brain injury and their families.
Through local Resource Coordinators across the state, AHIF provides direct support services to more than 1,200 traumatic brain injury survivors each year. These services include home modifications, social/recreational support groups, respite care, a weekend camp, assistance with securing durable medical equipment, assistance with requesting the write-off of medical bills, and assistance with identifying potential funding sources through social service programs. AHIF does a tremendous job.
Several of our lawyers have served with AHIF and Mike Andrews is currently a Board Member and Executive Committee Member of this most worthwhile organization. For many years, AHIF received the majority of its funding through the State of Alabama’s Impaired Driver’s Trust Fund, which receives its revenue through a $100 fine associated with DUI convictions. In the past five years, however, revenue from the Impaired Driver’s Trust Fund has dropped by 46 percent. This was due in part to fewer drunk driving convictions and in part due to the utilization by local municipal courts of the Deferred Prosecution program, which does not generate funds for the IDTF. As a result, AHIF now has to rely more heavily on contributions from the surrounding community.
For more information on this organization, how you can help or receive benefits, contact Mike Andrews at 800-898-2034 or by email at Mike.Andrews@beasleyallen.com.
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