Brain, Spinal Cord, and Nervous System Injuries
Neuroanatomy is the most complex and rapidly evolving field in medicine. Trauma to the brain can cause lasting and occasionally debilitating symptoms including headaches, blurred vision, memory loss, speech and communicative impairment, hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears), vertigo, dizziness, sleep loss, agitation, mood swings, and in more severe cases, coma or fatality. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a specialized focus for doctors and attorneys. In some cases, concussion causes persistent symptoms resulting in a diagnosis of post-concussive syndrome. Also, diffuse organic brain damage can occur due to blunt force trauma to the head or severe shaking sufficient to cause collision between the brain and the interior of the cranium.
It is very difficult to properly diagnose and quantify traumatic brain injuries. Neuropsychologists have developed many tests that help to objectively document the extent of memory loss and loss of cognitive and functional impairment. New treatment options are constantly arising in this field, and there is wonderful hope for patients with brain injuries.
The most frightening head injuries involve intracranial hemorrhage. If bleeding occurs below the surface of the skull, this can result in severe and permanent brain damage for the patient. Typically, emergency surgery is performed to open the cranium and release internal pressure and bleeding. After repairs are made to arrest bleeding, draining devices are installed to equalize and maintain proper intracranial pressure.
TBI patients are often unable to return home due to their injuries. They require inpatient care at skilled nursing care facilities. The injury case must show all medical and life-care costs that the patient will expect over the full balance of his or her life to ensure that the funds recovered are sufficient to allow access to cutting-edge medical options and to provide every possible comfort to the victim.
Injuries to the nerves of the spine can also cause devastating loss of function for the patient. Spinal cord injuries vary in severity depending upon location, with injuries at higher levels of the spine being the most severe. Injuries to the spinal cord are classified as partial or complete. If the injury is “complete,” the victim will have no mobility, feeling, or function of the body below the point of injury. With a partial injury to the spinal cord, the person may be able to partially move one limb or perhaps have more use of one side of the body than the other.
Spinal cord injuries to the neck and cervical spine frequently result in quadriplegia. Injuries above the level of the fourth cervical vertebra (C4) may require use of a ventilator to allow the patient to breathe. Injury to C5 causes a loss of control at the wrist and hand, but the victim can still use his or her shoulder. Trauma to the C6 vertebra typically results in the loss hand function. Injuries at C2 are often the most profound. Christopher Reeve, the famous actor who suffered severe injury due to a horseback riding accident, endured his injury at this level of his cervical spine.
In spinal cord injury cases, it is often difficult to show a jury the extent of disability and discomfort in a trial setting. The victim should be present for some part of the trial, if possible. However, it is typically best not to force an uncomfortable, ongoing presence, and therefore, family members may sit in at the plaintiff’s table during the trial. Where the victim cannot physically tolerate the full trial and during medication and settlement negotiations, it is best to secure a day-in-the-life video to show how the injury has truly impacted day-to-day quality of life. Vendors provide videography services and a quality documentary can typically be professionally produced at a reasonable cost. This evidence is essential to force insurance carriers, responsible parties, and a jury to truly consider the extent of pain, disfigurement, immobility, and disability imposed by the spinal injury. Family members should also be encouraged to secure photographs, video, and other evidence (e.g., diaries) during the healing process to help secure proof of the devastating difficulties produced by these injuries.