Our brains are essential to every aspect of our lives, from the way we think to how we interact with the world. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to remember where we left our keys, how to brush our teeth, or what tone of voice we should use when speaking. Because of this, brain damage is rarely ever minor, as it can impact every facet of your life in a variety of different ways.
Recovering from brain damage can be difficult, as it requires months to years of cognitive therapy, expensive surgeries, and assisted care if the damage is permanent. All of this can add up to a mountain of medical debt that can follow you for the rest of your life. But if your traumatic brain injury was caused by a negligent individual, you may be able to pursue compensation to help cover your medical bills, lost wages, rehabilitation, and mental anguish. To learn how, reach out to Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP. Our New York brain injury attorneys have extensive experience reviewing our clients’ medical injuries and standing up to major insurance companies to get them the compensation they deserve. We offer each potential client a free initial consultation, so there is no cost to scheduling an appointment with us at (212) 986-7353.
A healthy brain doesn't exactly stay still inside the head; rather, it floats inside the skull in a protective layer of fluid. While this fluid protects the brain during your daily routine, keeping it secure while you are walking, standing up, exercising, or dancing, it cannot absorb a large amount of force. This means that when it is jerked back and forth, such as during a rear-end collision, the brain can collide with the side of the skull. Generally, this leads to a concussion, but in more forceful accidents where the head collides with another object, the skull can become fractured, the brain can be bruised, and important functions can be damaged.
Inside the brain are nerve cells called neurons that perform the functions of the brain; the connections between them, which carry messages to and from neurons, are essential to the brain's normal function. Everything from your childhood memories to your unique skills to your personality is determined by your neurons. Sadly, this means that when neurons are damaged or these connections are disrupted, every aspect of your identity can change. A brain injury is far more than a headache. It can involve memory loss, mood swings, sudden onset mental illnesses, the loss of certain skills, damage to your ability to hear, see, taste, or talk, and other traumatic conditions.
Different physical areas of the brain are responsible for different brain functions. The main three sections include the cerebrum (front of the brain), brainstem (middle of the brain), and the cerebellum (back of the brain).
Although scientists don't fully understand the relationship between parts of the brain and its various functions, research has shown that each section has control over certain bodily functions, either voluntarily or involuntarily. However, the brain is also very malleable. If one section is damaged, you may temporarily lose certain functions, such as fine motor movements in your hands or the ability to balance on your toes. Over time and with the right therapy or surgery, you may be able to regain control.
That being said, damage to one section could also be permanent and make it all but impossible for you to recover certain senses, functions, or abilities, or at least lose full control of them. The key functions that each section control include:
Cerebrum: Located at the front of the brain, the cerebrum has control over your coordination, certain senses like vision, touch, hearing, and temperature; your ability to solve problems, use reason, and make judgment calls; your ability to regulate your emotions; and your ability to learn new information or skills. Damage to the cerebrum can influence your ability to interact with the world and can lead to serious mood swings.
Brainstem: Situated in the center of the brain and running down to the spine, the brainstem controls your ability to sense heat and pain; your ability to breathe and your heart rate; involuntary muscle movements; your ability to control your mouth (including swallowing, coughing, and vomiting); and your ability to stay awake.
Cerebellum: Resting at the back of the skull, the cerebellum is often damaged in slip and falls, which can influence your balance, posture, and your ability to move.
Damage to any of these sections can severely impact your life, ranging from how you move through your daily routine to your ability to grow and develop within a career. In addition to these three sections, a traumatic brain injury can influence your:
- Frontal lobe
- Parietal lobe
- Occipital lobe
- Temporal lobe
Brain damage is often the result of a direct blow to the head or if the skull is jerked back and forth. When the brain sustains trauma, it can be damaged in several ways:
- The brain may be jolted violently within the skull, twisting and breaking the connections between neurons. A strong blow may damage the brain cells themselves. By itself, this is called a closed head injury. This is the type of injury most common in shaken baby syndrome, and in military TBIs sustained from blast injuries.
- The brain may be penetrated by a weapon, shrapnel, or other loose objects, or by a piece of its own broken skull, damaging the brain cells directly. This is called a penetrating head injury, and it can occur along with a closed head injury.
- As a secondary injury, the brain may bleed heavily, which can cause further brain damage by depriving the brain of oxygen or building up pressure that can crush brain cells. Oxygen deprivation (ischemia, anoxia or hypoxia) kills brain cells within minutes by depriving them of the fuel they need to survive.
Brain injuries can also be divided into two categories that depend on the extent of the trauma and how many sections were affected. A brain injury that is concentrated in one area is called a focal head injury: one that injures neurons throughout the brain is called a diffuse head injury. Because a focal head injury is limited to a specific area of the brain, patients lose specific functions; a diffuse head injury can affect a variety of functions. Diffuse injuries to the neural connections occur in almost half of all serious head traumas and are a leading cause of coma and vegetative state. In either case, doctors may not be able to accurately predict a patient's injuries at first.
Once brain tissue has been destroyed, it cannot grow back the way other tissues do. That means that when part of the brain is damaged, those parts cannot do their jobs anymore, or they cannot do their jobs well, although the brain may find ways to adapt. Thus, a patient with a traumatic brain injury may lose certain functions for life. Those functions can include anything the brain controls: physical movement, unconscious regulation of body functions, intellectual tasks, the senses, learning, memory, emotional tasks, and many more.
Brain damage can be divided into three categories based on what functions were affected:
Motor functions: Motor functions relate to your ability to interact with the world and control your body’s movement. With a brain injury, this can include everything from difficulty controlling fine movements, often leading to you stumbling, having difficulties staying balanced, or even to paralysis, which can affect one area of the body or multiple parts. You can also lose the ability to process certain senses, such as your ability to tell hot from cold or recognize pain.
Cognitive functions: Your brain manages certain conscious functions, such as your ability to learn, think, and develop plans. If you suffered damage in your cerebrum, you may have difficulties learning new skills, recognizing patterns, thinking of certain words, processing new information, remembering old information, and controlling your behavior.
Psychological functions: Often overlapping with your cognitive functions, your psychological functions refer to your brain’s ability to control your emotions through chemical processes. Every emotion you experience is determined by various levels of certain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. When damaged, these chemicals can become imbalanced, resulting in certain mental illnesses. It is not uncommon for accident victims to develop anxiety, depression, PTSD, aggression, irritability, or other mental conditions.
In addition, patients with a traumatic brain injury are at increased risk for serious neurological problems, including epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, and depression.
Immediately following a traumatic brain injury, victims often experience confusion or are unable to keep their thoughts together. They may even have short-term memory loss and cannot fully remember how their accident occurred. They can experience headaches and migraines, sensitivity to light and loud noises, and fatigue. All of these symptoms should be reported to a medical doctor immediately after an accident, who may require further tests to determine how extensive the damage is. In some instances, you may only have a concussion that will resolve itself with observation and rest.
However, many brain injuries follow a victim long after an accident. As mentioned above, brain damage can affect a wide variety of functions, from your long-term memory to your ability to move. If not treated immediately, these conditions can become permanent or cause additional damage. But even early intervention may not be enough, and it is possible that you could be stuck with a permanent disability for years to come. This can be extremely distressing, as treatment may require extensive tests, surgeries, and therapy to help you heal or at least manage in your day-to-day life.
If your injuries were caused by an act of negligence, such as a reckless driver, careless property owner, or dangerous construction site, then you could recover compensation for your injuries. To get the money you need to heal comfortably, you will want to work with an experienced attorney who can explain what type of claim you can file, such as a personal injury claim, premises liability claim, auto accident claim, medical malpractice claim, or workers’ compensation claim.
TBI patients may face permanent disabilities, years of medical attention and therapies, and even personality changes. In addition to the physical and emotional changes in their lives, these can be extremely expensive for an ordinary family, especially if the victim can no longer work. If you or someone you love has sustained a traumatic brain injury because of another person's negligence, you should speak to the New York brain trauma attorneys at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP at (212) 986-7353 as soon as possible.