Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are serious injuries that can have life-altering, if not life-threatening, consequences. They are also far more common than many people realize. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to traumatic brain injuries each year, and approximately 60,000 people lose their lives to accident-related brain trauma annually. The CDC also reports that:
- Unintentional falls account for approximately 48% of all TBI-related hospitalizations.
- Motor vehicle crashes account for approximately 25% of all TBI-related hospitalizations.
- After unintentional falls and motor vehicle crashes, some of the most-common causes of TBI-related hospitalizations are assaults, being unintentionally struck by an object, and intentional self-harm.
- The highest rates of TBI-related hospitalizations are among seniors over the age of 75, followed by seniors between the ages of 65 and 74.
- Children account for approximately 8% of all TBI-related hospitalizations (this includes TBI from all causes).
Of course, if you, your child or parent, or another loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury, these types of statistics really don’t matter. What matters is that you are able to get the care you or your loved one needs—and that you have a way to pay for it.
You also need to make sure you have the knowledge and financial resources to cope with the effects of your (or your loved one’s) traumatic brain injury in the months and years to come. While it is possible to recover from some forms of TBI, other traumatic brain injuries can be permanent. In cases of permanent TBI, securing the resources you need takes on heightened importance, as treatment costs alone for serious traumatic brain injuries can climb into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Understanding the Different Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries
“Traumatic brain injury” is a broad term that encompasses several different types of damage to several different parts of the brain. TBI can vary widely in both its causes and their effects, and understanding a patient’s specific diagnosis is crucial for developing an effective treatment plan and preparing to meet the patient’s long-term needs (if any). In this section, we will discuss:
- Traumatic Brain Injury Severity
- Primary vs. Secondary Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Specific Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries
1. Traumatic Brain Injury Severity
The first way doctors typically classify traumatic brain injuries is according to their severity. As outlined by the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), there are three main severity classifications:
- Mild Brain Injury – According to the BIAA, a traumatic brain injury can generally be classified as “mild” if it results in only a brief loss of consciousness (if any), relatively minor short-term memory loss, lethargy, vomiting, and dizziness. It should be noted, however, that concussions may not result in any of these effects, yet they are still considered to be mild brain injuries. Additionally, “mild” should not be translated to “minor,” as all TBI require prompt medical treatment and a dedicated recovery period.
- Moderate Brain Injury – The BIAA defines a “moderate” brain injury as one that results in up to 24 hours of unconsciousness, contusions or bleeding, and signs of physical brain trauma on neuroimaging.
- Severe Brain Injury – A traumatic brain injury is considered “severe,” according to the BIAA, if it results in unconsciousness for longer than 24 hours, no sleep/wake cycle during loss of consciousness, and signs of injury on neuroimaging.
2. Primary vs. Secondary Traumatic Brain Injuries
Next, a traumatic brain injury may either be classified as “primary” or “secondary”. An injury is considered primary if it results from the traumatic event itself. For example, brain trauma sustained when the head collides with the ground or a vehicle window would be considered a primary TBI. An injury is considered secondary if it results from a primary injury. As we discuss in greater detail below, hypoxia (reduced flow of oxygen to the brain) is an example of a secondary TBI.
Notably, as explained by BrainLine, a PBS publication, “Most brain injuries are comp[r]ised of a mix of both primary and secondary injuries. The more severe the initial [injury], the more likely the secondary injuries will have  major effects on the person’s overall outcome.”
3. Specific Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries
The brain is composed of nerves, blood vessels, brain tissue, neurons, and grey matter—among other things. In the event of a traumatic accident, each of these components has the potential to suffer damage in various parts of the brain. The nature and location of the damage to the brain will determine a patient’s specific diagnosis. With this in mind, some of the most common types of traumatic brain injuries include:
Cerebral edema is a secondary TBI that is characterized by swelling in the brain which is caused by fluid buildup. It can cause impaired function, compression of the brain tissue and blood vessels, permanent brain damage, and death.
Concussions are the most common and most well-known form of TBI. They can be caused by direct impacts to the head as well as violent shaking of the head or body, and are characterized by stretching of the nerves and blood vessels in the brain that results in temporary loss of normal brain function.
A contusion is a bruise on the brain tissue. Contusions may accompany concussions; and, while they will heal with rest in relatively “mild,” cases, some brain contusions can present medical emergencies—particularly if excess swelling occurs.
A coup-countrecoup injury occurs when the brain impacts the skull on one side with the force of impact being so great that it causes the brain to impact the skull on the opposite side as well. Contusions are most commonly associated with coup-countrecoup injuries, though they can also entail various other forms of brain trauma.
Diffuse Axonal Injuries (DAI)
Whereas concussions and contusions typically result from linear movement of the brain, diffuse axonal injuries (DAI) result from rotational forces in most cases. Rotation of the brain within the skull results in stretching and/or tearing of the brain’s connections—which then damages the axons inside of the nerve cells within and outside of the brain.
A hematoma, or intracranial hematoma, is characterized by the rupturing of blood vessels inside or outside of the brain, resulting in a blood clot. A hematoma can be epidural (outside of the brain and the dura), subdural (between the brain and the dura), subarachnoid (within the layers of the dura), or intracerebral (within the brain tissue itself). Hematomas can also result in intraventricular hemorrhages, which are characterized by blood entering the ventricles of the brain.
Hydrocephalus is a secondary injury characterized by the buildup of excess cerebrospinal in the brain. It can have long-term or permanent cognitive effects for both adults and children.
Hypoxia and Hypotension
Hypoxia (reduced oxygen flow) and hypotension (low blood pressure) are secondary injuries that frequently occur together. Disruption of the oxygen supply to the brain due to hypoxia or hypotension can have permanent consequences even after a very short period of time.
Ischemia is another secondary condition that is closely related to hypoxia. It is characterized by a restriction in the blood supply to the tissue in the brain, which can have a number of different effects depending on the scope and duration of the restriction.
Post-Concussive Syndrome (PCS)
Post-concussive syndrome (PCS) occurs when the symptoms of a concussion last longer than expected. In cases of PCS, the recovery period is usually measured in months rather than weeks. Some patients will experience lingering effects, and the risks of suffering a second concussion can be significantly greater for PCS patients.
Second-impact syndrome is another risk associated with concussions. In rare cases, concussion patients who suffer a second concussion (or “second impact”—although impact is not necessary for a concussion) can experience severe and permanent neurologic injuries. Second-impact syndrome can also be fatal in some cases.
Brain Injuries Related to Skull Fractures
Finally, while a skull fracture is not a brain injury itself, skull fractures will frequently result in TBI. Penetrating brain injuries—where skull fragments or foreign objects enter the brain—are among the most-dangerous types of brain injuries, and they have a high mortality rate in most cases.
Understanding the Many Possible Effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries
Due to the increasing prevalence of traumatic brain injuries, researchers are placing increased emphasis on studying both the short-term and long-term effects of TBI. As a result, they are gaining a greater understanding of just how often TBI has long-term, if not permanent effects, and how past brain trauma can increase the risks associated with subsequent injuries.
As a patient or family member, understanding the potential outcomes of a traumatic brain injury is just as important as – if not more important than – understanding the specific diagnosis. Depending on the severity and location of a person’s brain injury, potential short-term effects and long-term outcomes include:
- Agraphia, alexia, aphasia, and apraxia
- Anxiety, depression, and emotional changes
- Chronic headaches
- Cognitive impairments
- Developmental delays and disorders
- Difficulty speaking or communicating effectively
- Impaired ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs)
- Impaired judgment, conceptualization, and problem solving
- Impaired social capacity
- Loss of balance, coordination, strength, and endurance
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
- Memory loss (amnesia)
- Premature death
- Sensory changes and impairments
- Sleep disturbances
- Traumatic epilepsy
- Vision problems
Understanding How to Prove the Financial and Non-Financial Costs of Traumatic Brain Injuries
These effects and outcomes can lead to substantial costs for accident victims and their families. When traumatic brain injuries have permanent consequences, victims and their loved ones may experience consequences every day for the rest of their lives. As a result, pursuing a compensation claim is extremely important, and Florida law allows for the recovery of both current and future financial and non-financial losses. This includes:
- Medical bills
- Prescription costs
- Other out-of-pocket costs resulting from the injury
- Loss of income, benefits, and future earning capacity
- Pain, suffering, and emotional trauma
- Loss of companionship, consortium, services, society, and support
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Of course, proving the long-term costs of a traumatic brain injury can be challenging. Proving the financial costs of a TBI requires data and testimony from doctors, economists, life care planners, and other experts. Proving the non-financial costs of a TBI requires expert testimony as well, and friends and loved ones may also help paint a picture of the day-to-day challenges caused by an accident victim’s TBI. Ultimately, however, there is a process that can be followed, and many accident victims and families will be able to recover just compensation with the help of an experienced personal injury attorney.
Speak with a Florida Traumatic Brain Injury Attorney in Confidence
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, we encourage you to contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation about your legal rights. To speak with a Florida traumatic brain injury attorney at Silva & Silva in confidence, call 305-445-0011 or request an appointment online now.