Undiagnosed and Misdiagnosed Closed-Head Injuries

Article provided by the Karney Law Firm. Please visit our Web site at www.karneylaw.com.

Approximately 1.4 million Americans seek medical treatment for traumatic brain injuries each year. Closed-head injuries are the most common cause of brain injuries. Falls are responsible for the most traumatic brain injuries, followed by motor vehicle crashes, being struck by or colliding with an object, and assault. Concussions are the mildest TBI, but severe TBI can cause coma and death. Fifty thousand people die of TBI each year. More than 80,000 of each year's TBI patients have long-lasting symptoms that affect their daily lives. 5.3 million people need help with everyday living due to TBI.

What is a traumatic brain injury?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an injury to the head that interrupts brain function. When the head strikes an object like a car's dashboard or the ground, the brain can hit the inside of the skull. TBI also occurs when the head is struck by an object, like a fist or baseball.

In closed-head injuries, the object does not break through the skull. Brain contusions are bruises caused when the brain hits against the skull. When a blood vessel in the head is damaged and bleeds into the cranium, the pressure from the hematoma (pool of blood) can cause brain injury. "Contrecoup" contusions are caused when the brain hits two sides of the skull, as in shaken baby syndrome or whiplash.

What are the symptoms of TBI?

If loss of consciousness accompanies TBI, seek immediate medical attention. Untreated, TBI can lead to coma and death. Symptoms are often subtle and may not appear for days or weeks after the initial injury. They include:

  • Persistent headaches and neck pain
  • Difficulty remembering, making decisions or concentrating
  • Difficulty or slowness in speaking (slurred speech), thinking, understanding or reading
  • Becoming lost or confused easily
  • Loss of energy or increased sleepiness
  • Quick mood changes, such as becoming suddenly sad or angry
  • Sleep disturbances, either insomnia or chronic fatigue
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness or inability to keep balance
  • Nausea or sudden urge to vomit
  • Loss of fine motor functions
  • Amnesia
  • Increased sensitivity to sounds, lights or distractions
  • Blurred vision or easily tired eyes
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste
  • Ringing in ears

All of these symptoms should be reported to a doctor. If closed-head brain injury is not treated properly and quickly, other symptoms can appear, including:

  • Extreme irritability, anxiety or rage
  • Personality changes
  • Depression, sometimes as a result of lost abilities from the initial trauma
  • Extended cognitive problems or inability to solve everyday problems
  • Emotional or behavioral disorders, including difficulties in relationships, work or school
  • Seizures

What should I do if I think I have a closed-head injury?

Seek the advice of a physician. A doctor can diagnose and treat TBI to decrease the permanent and long-lasting effects. The doctor may attempt to control intracranial (inside the skull) pressure, control bleeding in and around the brain, and ensure adequate blood and oxygen flow to the brain.

Speak with an attorney. All states, including North Carolina, have laws that cover negligent and intentional injuries. In addition, worker's compensation laws apply to injuries that happened on the job. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) covers the educational needs of children with TBI-related disabilities. Patients may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) assists many veterans who have closed-head injuries and TBIs.

The time for filing a lawsuit is limited in most cases. Consulting a lawyer soon will help to preserve your rights. Do not merely rely on insurance adjusters or other interested parties to inform you of your rights.

What are my rights?

Patients with closed-head injuries and TBIs may be entitled to compensation for their injuries. If another person is at fault for the injury, he or she could be found responsible for costs related to medical care, rehabilitation, attorney's fees, lost wages, support with day-to-day life care, pain and suffering, and punitive damages. Patients also may have legal claims against doctors who failed to diagnose traumatic brain injuries.

Finally, North Carolina has a special concern for people with closed-head and traumatic brain injuries. The North Carolina Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council (NCTBIAC) advises the General Assembly on TBIs and coordinates interagency assistance for TBI patients.

If you suspect that you have sustained a closed-head injury, speak with your doctor as soon as possible. If your injury was caused by someone else's negligence or intentional act, consult an attorney as well.