While any type of brain injury can result in tragic consequences, a coma is certainly one of the most difficult. A person in a coma is still alive, but they have essentially no conscious response to external stimulation. This condition can last for a few days, weeks, or long years, and recovery depends on a wide series of factors. Even someone who awakens from a coma after a relatively short time period may experience long-term or life-long issues as a result of brain injuries or the coma itself.
If you have a loved one who currently is or was in a coma as a result of traumatic brain injury, then you may deserve compensation for their pain and suffering and any financial difficulties you experience. A coma caused by someone else's negligence can be a terrible ordeal, but you do not have to go through that ordeal alone. Call the experienced NY personal injury lawyers of Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP today at (212) 986-7353. Tell us about your case and we can help you understand the options available to you and fight to make sure your rights are protected.
Typically, comas are caused by trauma to the brain resulting in a lack of oxygen, either a chemical effect from toxins or drugs, or some sort of direct physical damage. The kind of brain injuries that cause comas are usually the result of a major accident or a physical assault.
- Traffic Collisions: Serious automotive collisions can result in a wide range of injuries depending on the type of impact, but traumatic brain injuries are among the most severe. A driver or passenger’s head might strike the steering wheel, front dashboard, or windshield within a car or truck. A pedestrian or motorcyclist can experience brain injuries if a vehicle comes into contact with his or her head, or by striking his or her head on the ground after the collision.
- Workplace Accidents: Accidents at the workplace, especially in dangerous places like construction sites, can be disastrous. Falling items may hit a person's head and deal traumatic injuries to his or her brain. Even a slip and fall at work can be dangerous if the head is involved. Unsafe working conditions may be due to the negligence of an employer or property owner.
- Acts of Violence: Sadly, attacks on one person by another can also result in intentional injuries. Blunt force impact to the victim’s head, whether given by a weapon like a baseball bat or just a punch, can result in serious trauma. After an assault, the attacker may face criminal charges, but can also be liable for civil damages if the victim takes him or her to court.
- Household Accidents: Slips and falls, and other accidents around the house, can result in comas. One of the most dangerous aspects of a slip is if someone hits his or her head on the ground or another object while falling. Poor installation of ceiling fans, lamps, and other household items can lead to a head injury. A property owner may be liable for such injuries to someone who is renting their house or a guest on their property.
The Glasgow Coma Scale is a system for assessing the severity of a patient's traumatic brain injury. Invented in 1974 by two neurosurgeons at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, it's the most common scale used to understand a traumatic brain injury. Brain injury experts believe that a patient's GCS score is a good predictor of how impaired he or she is likely to be after recovery. The higher the score, the more fully a patient is likely to recover.
Glasgow Coma Scale looks for eye, verbal and motor responses in the patient and assigns a score from 3 to 15:
- Eyes do not open.
- Opens eyes in response to pain.
- Opens eyes in response to voice.
- Opens eyes spontaneously.
- Does not make sounds.
- Makes incomprehensible sounds.
- Says inappropriate words.
- Speaks, but confused.
- Speaks normally.
- Doesn't move.
- Extends limbs in response to pain.
- Flexes limbs in response to pain.
- Withdraws from pain.
- Moves toward pain.
- Obeys commands.
A person in a coma would have a score of GCS 3; a healthy person would have a score of GCS 15. However, doctors often phrase a Glasgow Coma Scale score as the sum of individual components, especially when the patients' age, injuries or treatment makes it impossible to respond using their full abilities. Thus, a person who opens her eyes in response to a voice, cannot speak at all and moves toward pain would have a score of E3V1M5, or GCS 9. While there are exceptions, a GCS score of 8 or below generally indicates a severe brain injury; a score of 9 to 12 indicates moderate injury; and 13 to 15 indicates mild injury. A patient's GCS score can change over time; indeed, doctors expect the score to increase as the patient recovers.
Children under 36 months may be scored on the Pediatric Glasgow Coma Scale, which was invented to test responses of children who haven't learned to speak clearly yet. Another widely used test measuring patients with brain injuries is the Rancho Los Amigos Scale, named for a Los Angeles trauma center. The RLS scale is different from the GCS because it measures the progress of a patient's recovery, rather than the severity of the injury, and is not intended to predict the final outcome of treatment.
In addition to comas, there are a few other common states of unconsciousness that are medically distinct and worth understanding following a traumatic brain injury:
- Vegetative State: Somewhat similar to a coma, in this state a person has lost the ability to think and has no awareness of surroundings, but some brain functions remain. He or she might respond slightly to external stimuli and move spontaneously, but cannot speak or respond to commands.
- Minimally Conscious State: This is a state of altered consciousness, but some awareness remains. It is quite severe and awareness may be inconsistent and unpredictable.
- Locked-In Syndrome: This typically occurs after a brainstem stroke or similar event and eliminates control of movement, but does not impact awareness or wakefulness. There may be near-total paralysis, but communication and movement through the person's eyes or eyelids is often possible.
- Brain Death: Someone is considered brain dead after irreversible loss of all brainstem functions, so that breathing and circulation functionality are possible only with the assistance of medical machinery. Even with intensive care, cardiac arrest usually occurs within days or hours.
During a traditional personal injury claim, you would assume that only the injured party could come forward to file the claim. Obviously, it would be impossible for a coma victim to file a claim unless they had recovered. However, in the state of New York, a friend or family member can file a claim on behalf of the victim if they are considered the victim’s conservator.
Conservatorship is not automatic, and if you do wish to file a claim on behalf of your loved one, then you will have to petition a court first. This will involve a hearing wherein a judge will determine whether or not you are fit enough to act as a conservator and if it is in the best interest of the injured party. You may have an attorney represent you throughout the hearing and provide legal advice for your arguments. If the judge declares you the conservator, then you must then request the court’s approval to file a claim on the victim’s behalf. They will also need to review the claim with the attorney handling the case in order to be sure that it is in the best interests of the victim.
On their own, traumatic brain injuries are costly events. A victim may have to deal with expensive ER bills and immediate treatment to prevent further damage to the brain. In addition, temporary or permanent brain damage may require significant treatment, from medication to therapy, in order to fully heal from. However, if they also entered a coma, then the cost of treatment will rise drastically. They will need to be immediately hospitalized and receiving round-the-clock care to keep them alive. Oftentimes, these bills fall on the victim after they have recovered or on their family members. But, if the coma was the result of someone else’s negligent actions, then the victim’s family or representative may be able to file a claim for damages.
Because of the number of medical costs associated with a coma, treatment will likely make up the bulk of a claim, but there are other forms of damages that can be included. In the state of New York, an accident victim can file for:
- Medical bills, including past and future
- Therapy, including cognitive, occupational, and physical therapy
- Lost wages
- Lost career opportunities
- Permanent disability
- Mental anguish
- Loss of consortium
- Pain and suffering
To ensure that every cost is accounted for in a claim, you will need the aid of an experienced attorney who can vigorously advocate for full compensation from the at-fault party.
Traumatic brain injuries are catastrophic, life-changing injuries that can change every aspect of the lives of victims and their families. If you or someone you love sustained serious brain damage as a result of another person's carelessness, you have the right to hold that person responsible in a traumatic brain injury lawsuit. Litigation can help you recover money to compensate you for ongoing medical treatment, past and future lost wages, permanent disability or disfigurement, pain and suffering and more. Call the New York traumatic brain injury attorneys at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP today at (212) 986-7353 for a free evaluation of your case.