A concussion—often referred to as a “mild” traumatic brain injury—is a common injury to suffer, particularly in car accidents. Many people believe that the only way to suffer a concussion is to hit one’s head and are, therefore, surprised to find out that they suffered a concussion in a car accident when they do not recall hitting their head on anything. Perhaps they didn’t—their seatbelts held them back, and their airbags prevented their heads from striking the windshield or dashboard. Still, however, that jolt might cause a concussion.
Read on for more information about concussions, how they occur, the dangers of this condition, and an explanation of how you can suffer this condition without hitting your head.
How Concussions Occur Without a Blow to the Head
A person can suffer this type of injury without the person’s head making contact with anything. If the body suddenly stops, such as when a person is in a car accident where the seat belt prevents the body from moving forward, the brain can move rapidly back and forth in the skull and cause an injury. This rapid movement can cause a brain bruise, along with many of the symptoms noted above.
Moreover, this abrupt movement can disrupt the brain’s neurons and axons, which serve as the brain’s “internal networking system.” Nearly all types of car accidents that one can have can lead to a concussion without a blow to the head.
Here are some examples:
- A rear-end collision: This type of accident occurs when the front of one vehicle collides with the rear end of another vehicle. These accidents are most often the result of the following car tailgating the lead car and not having enough time to come to a safe stop if the lead vehicle suddenly stops or slows. These accidents are especially common when roadway conditions are busy, and traffic backs up quickly. The occupants of either vehicle can suffer a concussion due to the back-and-forth motion of the head that happens from the impact of the two cars colliding.
- Head-on collisions: A head-on collision occurs when the front of one vehicle makes contact with the front of another. This type of accident often happens due to wrong-way driving or the force of a previous collision pushing one of the vehicles involved into oncoming travel lanes. Because of the forward motion of both vehicles when the collision occurs, the force of a head-on collision increases, generally resulting in more serious injuries. The violent jolt of this type of impact can result in a concussion for the occupants of either vehicle.
- Broadside collisions: This type of accident, also known as a side-angle crash or a T-bone accident, occurs when the front of one vehicle collides with the side of another. This type of accident generally occurs at an intersection when one driver fails to yield the right-of-way to another. They can also happen on highway merge lanes, where the merging driver fails to yield the right of way and collides with the side of a through-moving vehicle. The injuries are often most severe for occupants sitting on the side of the vehicle that was struck due to less protective features on the doors of vehicles as opposed to the front of the vehicle. This is particularly true when a smaller vehicle is struck broadside by a larger vehicle, such as an SUV or truck. The occupants in either vehicle are at risk of a concussion due to the back-and-forth or side-to-side motion of the head upon impact.
- Rollovers: Vehicle rollovers can occur due to the vehicle striking or tripping on a median, guardrail, or even another car. This type of accident can also occur due to a vehicle running off the roadway and rolling down an embankment. Taller, narrower vehicles, such as SUVs or semi-trucks, can roll over due to having a high center of gravity and taking a curve or corner at speed. Rollover accidents can also happen when a large and heavy vehicle, such as a tractor-trailer or big rig, strikes a much smaller vehicle at a high rate of speed.
Vehicle rollovers tend to be violent events that result in the body being jolted through every rotation and can result in a concussion without a blow to the head.
The Dangers of Concussions
The brain is a complex organ that controls all of the body’s voluntary and involuntary responses. While the skull’s hard shell protects the brain from many types of damage, the skull can also be a catalyst for some of the damage caused as the brain is jolted back and forth within it. While doctors sometimes call concussions “mild” traumatic brain injuries, many concussed individuals can attest that there is nothing mild about a traumatic brain injury. Concussions can result in lifelong disabilities.
The brain has only a limited ability to recover from damage sustained. This is why brain injuries so often result in permanent disabilities. While the symptoms of a concussion often subside within days or weeks after the injury, some people also suffer permanent effects from this type of brain injury. It is called post-concussion syndrome when an individual suffers effects from a concussion for longer than doctors expect after the initial injury.
The lingering symptoms that often exist in individuals suffering from post-concussion syndrome include:
- Loss of memory
- Inability to concentrate
- Ringing in the ears
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Impacts on other senses, such as a decrease in the ability to taste or smell
Post-concussion syndrome might happen due to structural changes to the brain or a disruption of the nerves’ ability to send messages to other body parts. In addition, the impacts of this syndrome worsen due to psychological factors, such as post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the accident or depression due to the pain caused by the injury. This condition is not generally related to the severity of the injury itself.
Some of the issues that increase an individual’s likelihood of suffering post-concussion syndrome include a history of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, significant life stressors, and a lack of a strong social support system to assist the individual in recovering from the initial injury. Post-concussion syndrome is often more prevalent among older individuals, and women more often obtain this diagnosis than men.
Post-concussion syndrome is often diagnosed by ruling out other potential causes of the symptoms the individual is experiencing. A physician will often order a CT scan or an MRI to check for abnormalities in the brain. You can consult an ear, nose, and throat specialist to rule out medical conditions or illnesses that can produce symptoms such as dizziness. In addition to being difficult to diagnose, this condition is often difficult to treat. There is no single cure, but merely a handful of symptoms that the doctor will attempt to address through various treatments.
Those who suspect that they are suffering from post-concussion syndrome can assist medical professionals in determining the symptoms that they need to address by journaling the following information:
- Any symptoms that the victim experiences, even if they seem unrelated to the head injury.
- Key personal information, including any situations that are causing the sufferer to experience extreme stress, such as a change in jobs or a divorce.
- A list of all medications and supplements the individual is currently taking.
- A list of questions to ask the doctor. Some examples may include: why these symptoms are occurring, how long they are expected to last, if any additional tests can help to diagnose the problem, and if there are any activity restrictions that the individual needs to follow.
The Process of Recovering Damages Related to Your Concussion
For some individuals, the symptoms suffered by post-concussion syndrome can be permanent and can result in life-altering impacts, such as chronic pain or memory loss.
If you suffered a concussion as the result of a motor vehicle accident that was someone else’s fault, there are two ways to obtain compensation for your injury:
Your personal injury protection (PIP) policy.
Florida drivers must purchase a PIP policy of at least $10,000 before registering their car in the state. This policy will provide payment of medically necessary treatment after an accident, regardless of fault. Additionally, the policy will pay up to 80 percent of the individual’s loss of wages due to being too injured to work or having to miss work to attend injury-related appointments.
The benefit of recovering compensation through your PIP policy is that the money you need is generally made available more quickly than if you filed a third-party insurance claim and pursued damages through the at-fault party’s insurance provider. However, many injuries create larger expenses than the policy can provide, and lost wages are not paid in full, which often results in an individual not obtaining enough compensation to shield them from the burden of out-of-pocket expenses.
You can file a traumatic brain injury lawsuit against the at-fault party.
Florida only allows these lawsuits to occur in cases where the expenses of the injury exceed the limit of the sufferer’s PIP policy or meet the serious injury threshold. Injuries that meet this threshold include those that result in significant or permanent loss of bodily function. Many concussions, particularly those that result in post-concussion syndrome, can meet this threshold as they can result in loss of memory and other functions.
In any personal injury case, the accident victim has the sole legal burden of proof. The defendant—or the party who caused your accident—does not need to prove or disprove anything in the case. You must prove that someone else was liable to have a successful outcome from your traumatic brain injury lawsuit.
You can establish liability by proving:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. If the person who caused your accident was another driver, the duty of care they owed to you was to drive their motor vehicle safely and legally. Other duties of care will exist in different types of accidents, depending on the facts of your case.
- There was a breach in the duty of care. The breach refers to the at-fault party’s action that was contrary to the duty of care they owed to you. An example is an at-fault party who was driving while alcohol-impaired. The breach is the impairment, which is contrary to the duty to operate the motor vehicle safely and legally. Other drivers violate their duty of care simply by violating a rule of the road, such as speeding, failing to yield the right of way at the appropriate time, tailgating, failing to use a turn signal, or engaging in distracted driving.
- The breach resulted in the accident, which caused injury to you and subsequent expenses and impacts on your life.
You can recover both economic and non-economic damages through a traumatic brain injury lawsuit.
Economic damages refer to out-of-pocket expenses you incurred as a result of the accident, such as:
Medical expenses, including emergency treatment at the scene or in the emergency department, transportation to the hospital via ambulance or medical helicopter, diagnostic testing, physician or surgical services, hospitalization, prescription medication, physical therapy, and rehabilitation.
You may be eligible to recover your medical expenses even if you had health insurance at the time of your accident—and your health insurance paid for some or all of your related medical treatment. To prove that you are entitled to recover monetary damages for your medical expenses, your lawyer must submit copies of your medical records and medical bills from all treatment providers.
To establish that your claimed injuries directly resulted from the subject accident, one of your medical providers must ordinarily state that fact in writing—or in court—to a reasonable degree of medical probability. A treating medical provider can also establish that your traumatic head injury is permanent. A permanent TBI is unlikely to get better, even over time.
Lost wages, as TBIs typically require ongoing medical treatment and have symptoms that prevent an accident victim from working. When that happens, the accident victim may be eligible to recover their lost earnings from the at-fault party’s insurer.
To prove you’re entitled to lost wage compensation, you must ordinarily submit documentation from your employer showing the dates you missed—and the total amount of compensation you lost. You may also need to submit copies of recent income tax returns, along with medical evidence which shows that a doctor authorized you to remain off work for some time.
Loss of future earning capacity. An economist or other expert can testify that your TBI will prevent you from earning the same compensation you earned before your accident.
The cost of hiring someone to perform household tasks that your injury prevents you from doing on your own. Sometimes, a TBI is so severe that it prevents an accident victim from caring for themselves long-term. The accident victim may require a caregiver’s services, or they may need to spend the rest of their life in an assisted living facility or nursing home for around-the-clock care.
Non-economic damages are the impacts that the injury has on your life.
Examples of this type of damage include:
- Physical pain and suffering – Past physical pain and suffering compensate accident victims for the symptoms they experienced between their accident date and the present time. On the other hand, future pain and suffering damages compensate accident victims for the anticipated symptoms they may experience going forward. For example, a medical provider can state that the accident victim will likely experience ongoing pain and other symptoms for the rest of their life.
- Emotional distress – In many instances, individuals who suffer a TBI may also experience emotional distress, mental anguish, depression, and PTSD due to the trauma associated with their accident, limited functionality, inability to care for themselves, and other limitations associated with their TBI.
- Loss of the enjoyment of life – In some instances, a TBI seriously impacts an accident victim’s ability to spend time with their friends and family members—and to partake in sports and other recreational activities they once enjoyed. Fortunately, their loss of life enjoyment is legally compensable as part of the damages they recover in their personal injury claim or lawsuit.
What Do I Do if I Sustained a Concussion?
After a concussion, follow these three basic principles:
- Take care of yourself and your loved ones.
- Follow your doctor’s treatment plan.
- If necessary, speak with an attorney as soon as possible.
Many individuals who have suffered a concussion are reluctant to seek the assistance of an attorney in pursuing compensation. There are many reasons for this, including the fear that others will view the injury as minor and a brain injury lawyer will tell the individual that they do not have a case.
However, choosing to represent yourself in a personal injury case that involves a TBI can be a serious mistake. If the insurance company and their adjusters see that you are handling your claim alone, they will likely take advantage of you and refuse to compensate you fairly for your injury.
As big businesses, insurance companies try to save as much money as possible. If they see that you are representing yourself, they will assume that you lack the necessary legal knowledge and experience to negotiate a favorable settlement offer in your case. They will also assume that if your case goes to trial, you will lack the necessary legal competence to successfully advocate for yourself.
When you have an experienced personal injury attorney representing you in your TBI case, your lawyer can negotiate with the insurance company adjuster from the get-go. Suppose the insurance company refuses to take your case seriously or remains skeptical about your injury. In that case, your lawyer can threaten litigation and, if necessary, file a lawsuit in the Florida court system on your behalf.
Once your case is in court, your lawyer may continue negotiating on your behalf. If the case does not settle, your lawyer can assist you during the discovery process and depositions. Finally, if your case does not resolve by the end of litigation, your attorney can take your case to court and represent you at trial. As an alternative to trial, your lawyer can pursue alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or binding arbitration, for you.
You should also remember that accident victims do not have an unlimited period of time to file a lawsuit in their case. Under Florida law, accident victims only have four years from their accident date to file a lawsuit seeking damages. If the accident victim files their lawsuit even one day late, they waive their right to recover monetary damages for their injuries, including TBIs.
Because concussions can have lifelong, life-altering consequences, don’t worry about these things and seek legal advice to understand your options. Your lawyer can help you decide whether you should accept a pending settlement offer from the insurance company or file a lawsuit and vigorously litigate your case to the best possible conclusion in the state court system.
More importantly, understand that concussions can bring serious consequences. Now is the time to practice self-care and rest. Work with your physician, attorney, and whomever else you need to get better and get back to normal. Contact an injury attorney today to get started on your case.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Orlando, FL 32814