What is a Mild (or Minor) Traumatic Brain Injury?
When I first began my career nearly twenty-five years ago, I was a little surprised to find that this was a commonly used and accepted term both medically and legally. I mean, we're talking about TRAUMA to your BRAIN - how could that be "mild?!" This phrase (that struck me as an oxymoron) usually refers to a concussion. That's not that big of a deal, right? Wrong! The more I read and the more questions I asked, the more I learned. I learned that the term "mild" is used mainly to distinguish it from open brain injuries and is not meant to diminish its severity.
And, I learned that it can be very severe.
What Causes a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (Concussion)?
Most of us, at some point in our lives, have either experienced first-hand or witnessed someone getting a concussion, the most common type of brain injury. A car accident, a sports injury, or a slip and fall can all cause a concussion. (I received mine as a kid at a roller rink.) In most cases, you make a quick trip to the ER, have an examination by a doctor who tells you to stay awake for the next 6-8 hours and come back if you begin feeling nauseous or seeing double or have a severe headache, and you're fine.
Unfortunately, this is not always true. Brain injuries are tricky. You can't just put a Band-Aid on your brain and hope that it heals correctly. It is not a broken bone that can be set to knit itself back together. It is more like a computer. If you damaged your hard drive on your laptop, things might work for a while with just a few hiccups like a frozen screen or a corrupted file, but eventually, if not repaired, your symptoms would grow in severity until your system finally crashed and you lost everything. Brain injuries are like that. Symptoms may not be immediately apparent, especially if you don't know what to look for, but ignoring them can be devastating.
What are the Symptoms of a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury?
Here are some things you should look for if you think that you or someone close to you may have experienced a concussion or other head trauma:
- Headaches (specifically if they do not go away or worsen over time)
- Changes in vision (blurred or double vision for example)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sleepiness or drowsiness or inability to be wakened
- Unequal pupils
- Memory loss (both short-term and long-term memory loss can be symptoms)
- Slurred speech or difficulty speaking
- Mood and personality changes (easily angered, inappropriate responses, etc.)
- Difficulties with motor control, weakness, numbness, or loss of coordination (dropping things, loss of balance, etc.)
These things can be signs that your mild traumatic brain injury ("MTBI") isn't so minor. Brain injury is as much about WHERE you are injured (front, side, or back of the head) as it is about the severity of the blow. See, each part of your brain controls a different part of who you are and what you are able to do, and certain areas of your brain are more susceptible to injury than others.
My mom once told me a story about a girl at her high school who was goofing off in the parking lot on the hood of a friend's car. She fell off and hit her head on the asphalt. Hard. But she popped up laughing and insisting that she was fine. She never lost consciousness, never showed any symptoms that would have prompted her to see a doctor or seek any kind of medical help. Sadly, she died later that night of a "Mild Traumatic Brain Injury."
Over the years as a personal injury lawyer in Atlanta, I've handled several cases that involved head trauma. As I've done research for my clients about what can happen when you have a closed head trauma or a minor brain injury, I was surprised to find that while the symptoms can be pretty benign, like a headache. But the effects are also often severe, and could last forever. These types of injuries can change your personality, they can cause depression and suicidal thoughts, and they can impair your speech, your thought processes, and your memory. These types of injuries can result in an inability to work, the need for long term, around the clock care, therapies to re-learn basic motor functions or speech, and lasting changes to your personality. In rare cases, they can result in death. A few months ago, I settled a case for 1.5 million dollars, on behalf of a woman in her thirties who had a mild traumatic brain injury. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, split personality disorder and a myriad of other debilitating psychological problems that require her to be closely supervised. Proving her problems were related to her injury was difficult to prove. It required bringing in experts to examine my client and testify on her behalf. We also took the depositions of several people who had been close to or had worked with our client before the accident, so they could attest to her mental state pre-injury.
You should always do your best to prevent or protect yourself from any head injury - wear a helmet on a bicycle, motorcycle or scooter, don't climb a ladder that isn't secure, exercise caution while diving, horseback riding, or playing sports, etc. And it is CRUCIAL to always be thoroughly examined by a doctor whenever a head trauma occurs and provide as much information about your injury as possible. When you experience a head injury through no fault of your own, be aware of your rights.
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Atlanta accident attorney Casey W. Stevens offers free consultations from six North Georgia offices. If you can't come to us, we'll visit you at a location convenient to you.