Brain and Spinal Injury

Brain injuries occur in all sorts of accidents, from falling down the staircase at home on the way to getting a midnight snack, to car crashes and bicycle accidents, as well as from intentional assaults, like muggings or during sporting events (e.g. boxing, wrestling, football).  Not all brain injuries are severe, although any injury to the head should receive proper medical attention.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are those disrupting brain function.  TBI results in permanent brain damage.  It causes long-term disability with the loss of independent bodily function, as well as impaired cognitive abilities.

Each year, over one million Americans are treated in emergency rooms for injuries to the head.  Approximately 300,000 of these victims will have experienced moderate or severe TBI.  Even more dangerous are those brain injuries that do not present at the emergency room, and therefore don't receive proper treatment, because someone underestimates the severity of the injury. 

Mild TBI is often dismissed by the victim.  For several weeks, the mild TBI will cause the victim to feel "not quite himself" as well as suffering from headaches, dizziness,  ringing in the ears, fatigue, trouble with concentration, along with behavioral or personality changes.  By the time a victim of a mild TBI seeks medical relief, severe damage may have already occurred in the form of hemorrhage, skull fracture, or anoxia (absence of oxygen supply to brain tissue, resulting in irreversible brain tissue death).

Closely related to traumatic brain injuries are spinal cord injuries, since many times both the head and neck are simultaneously involved in the injury or accident.  The National Spinal Cord Injury Association estimates that there are 30 new and serious spinal cord injuries occurring every day in the United States, and 60% of those injured are men under the age of 30.  Car accidents cause of most spinal cord injuries in our country, with acts of violence a close second. 

The spinal cord is made up of a web of nerves used by the brain to communicate with the rest of the body.  Permanent damage to this nerve web results in faulty communication at best, and an absence of communication at worst.  Victims of spinal cord injury commonly face paraplegia or quadriplegia, with all the trauma that full or partial paralysis places upon both the victims and their loved ones.

Due to the severity of brain and spinal cord injuries, the cost of care and rehabilitation is astronomical. Both types of injury involved an impaired brain capacity to communicate with the body.  This impaired brain communication can result not only in full or partial paralysis but serious and chronic pain; pressure related skin problems; mental illness, including depression and schizophrenia; and loss of bladder or bowel control.  Many victims will need continued 24/7 care for the remainder of their lives.

Often, lawsuits are filed in order to obtain adequate compensation for the care and treatment of the TBI or spinal cord injury victim.  The complexity of medical knowledge as well as legal knowledge and expertise necessary to adequately advocate for these victims and their families has resulted in attorneys, and law firms, specializing in this focused area of practice. 

The cost of litigating these cases is expensive, due in part to the need for extensive medical expert analysis and testimony.  Determining the realm of defendants is also a legal challenge.  A high school wrestler permanently disabled due to the use of a banned wrestling move  during a high school competition can seek damages from the school district, sporting association, third parties responsible for equipment or the upkeep of the facilities, as well as coaching staff, and the individual wrestler.  While this wrestler may face a long-term prognosis almost identical to that of a shooting victim during a bank holdup, a difference of defendants will be involved and the strategies for their lawsuits their lawsuits will be very different. 

Trends: since 2000, motor vehicle accidents have been responsible for approximately half of all reported spinal cord injury cases; however, the amount of injuries resulting from sporting activities has increased.  The average age at time of injury has increased over time: in 1973 the average age at injury was 28 years; by 2000, the average age was 38 years.

Since the late 1990s, many states have passed legislation creating programs devoted to spinal cord injury research.  The Spinal Cord Injury Association of Kentucky, for example, focuses on awareness, resources, education, and athletics for spinal cord injury victims, as well is hosting an annual Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky contest.

The most controversial trend involves using embryonic stem cells as potential transplantable tissue to repair the injured tissue resulting from a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury.  Popularized by actor Christopher Reeve, there's currently a national movement to obtain state approval of stem cell research.  In July 2007, the states of New Jersey and North Carolina had approved it; other states found embryonic stem cell research to be immoral, voting against it, and there has been no federal legislation approving stem cell research on a national basis.

For more information:

Brain Injury Association of America

Brain Trauma Foundation

National Spinal Cord Injury Association

The Spinal Cord Injury Zone

American Spinal Injury Association

National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke