March is brain injury awareness month. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can devastate entire families. Many times, the person suffering a brain injury looks fine. Yet, their personality, emotional state and cognitive function can be greatly affected. Some brain injury victims and their families struggle to cope with the changes in personality and mental ability. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major cause of death and disability in the United States, contributing to about 30% of all injury deaths. Every day, 138 people in the United States die from injuries that include TBI. Those who survive a TBI can face effects lasting a few days to disabilities which may last the rest of their lives. Effects of TBI can include impaired thinking or memory, movement, sensation (e.g., vision or hearing), or emotional functioning (e.g., personality changes, depression). These issues not only affect individuals but can have lasting effects on families and communities.
In my law practice, I encourage family involvement in the healing and coping process. I also believe it essential for the injured person to see qualified medical specialists. Within the medical community, many healthcare professionals lack the training or experience necessary to understand these complex injuries. I’ve seen many cases where doctors initially ignored significant symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury.
Since March is dedicated to raising awareness of brain injury, it is important to understand the leading causes of this problem. What are the major causes of traumatic brain injury in the United States? According to the CDC, the three leading causes are:
- Falls (the CDC says falls account for 40% of the injuries resulting in visits to an emergency room, hospitalization or death).
- Unintentional blunt trauma — being hit accidentally by an object (the CDC says this category accounts for 15% of TBI cases).
- Motor Vehicle Accidents (the CDC says this category accounts for 14% of TBI cases).
Although I’ve seen variations of these percentages in different research, I don’t take any issue with falls, blunt trauma and motor vehicle accidents being three leading causes of TBI. In my practice, I frequently see TBI claims resulting from these sources. Many of these TBI cases involve workers hurt by falls or blunt trauma on construction or industrial sites.
Personally, I believe the number of actual TBI cases is FAR higher than the reported number. Possible TBI cases often go unreported. I believe several reasons exist for this:
- Lack of understanding by doctors and emergency personnel
- Focus by medical professionals and patients on obvious physical injuries instead of TBI symptoms
- Denial by patients of their symptoms due to a lack of understanding or fear
- Symptoms wrongly attributed to depression or other psychological disorders
- Refusals by workers’ compensation insurers to accept and treat work-related TBI motivated by a desire to cut costs
Alabama is fortunate to have excellent brain injury specialists and researchers at UAB. Another good source of information is the Alabama Head Injury Foundation. By focusing on safety, the number of brain injury cases can be significantly reduced. By focusing on treatment, the individuals coping with a brain injury can obtain the care needed for rehabilitation.