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What Does a Traumatic Brain Injury Diagnosis Do for My Legal Claim

What Does a Traumatic Brain Injury Diagnosis Do for My Legal Claim

Traumatic brain injury is a concept many of us have become more and more aware of recently as it has become news in amateur and professional sports and among victims of accidents. Professional football, soccer players, and boxers have developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a result of repeated concussions during competition.

What Is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

A traumatic brain injury occurs when a sudden trauma damages the brain. The damage can result when the head suddenly hits an object or when the head hits an object that may pierce the skull and enter the brain tissue. Traumatic brain injury can also result from violent shaking or other movements of the head, like that which may cause whiplash. The kind of traumatic brain injury familiar to most people is a concussion, and concussions account for the majority of traumatic brain injury cases every year.

Degrees of Traumatic Brain Injury

Initial symptoms of traumatic brain injury can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on how effects of the injury present right away. Symptoms of a mild traumatic brain injury may include unconsciousness for a few seconds or minutes. Victims may have symptoms such as headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision, tinnitus, fatigue, changes in sleep patterns, and behavioral changes.

A person with a moderate or severe traumatic brain injury will experience these same symptoms but may also have a persisting or increasing headache, nausea or vomiting, seizures, sleep problems, abnormal pupil dilations, slurred speech, loss of coordination or balance, numbness, and increased or increasing confusion and agitation.

Always keep in mind that just because a doctor states your injury is “mild” does not mean that it is not a serious injury. Even so-called mild TBIs can have lasting complications and symptoms.

Emergency Status

Traumatic brain injuries can be—and usually are – emergencies. In the case of more severe injuries, the seriousness of the damage can worsen rapidly if there is no treatment provided. Therefore, every degree of brain injury needs an assessment quickly.

Questions to Consider in Diagnosis

In assessing the extent of the injury in a potential traumatic brain injury case, there are questions that the medical staff should be asking:

  • How did the injury occur?
  • Did the victim lose consciousness?
  • How long was any period of unconsciousness?
  • Are there any other changes in speech, coordination, awareness, or other signs of injury?
  • Where on the head did the injury occur?
  • What are the details about how the injury occurred—a fall, a blow, a vehicle accident?
  • Were there sudden jarring or jolting movements of the body?

Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury

After a head injury, a victim can experience any of several common symptoms, which include:

  • Spinal fluid (a thin, clear liquid) running from the nose or ears
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Dilated or unequal pupils
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Inappropriate emotional responses such as irritability, frustrations, or unusual laughter or crying
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Slow pulse or breathing rate
  • Paralysis or clumsiness; poor coordination
  • Headache
  • Ringing in the ears or loss of hearing
  • Confusion or foggy thinking

Diagnostic Tools

Many tests and tools help diagnose a traumatic brain injury.

Abbreviated Injury Scale

The Abbreviated Injury Scale is a one-use tool that measures the threat of a brain injury to an individual’s life rather than assessing how severe the injury might be. It scores the injury from 1 (minor) to 6 (not survivable).

JFK Coma Recovery Scale—Revised

The JFK Scale assesses individuals who are barely conscious or in a vegetative state. It is especially helpful in measuring a return to consciousness. The Scale measures 23 different auditory, visual, motor, and automatic bodily functions.

Glasgow Coma Scale

One of the tools used in diagnosing traumatic brain injury is the Glasgow Coma Scale. The Scale is a 15-point test which doctors use to assess the initial severity of the damage by testing a person’s ability to follow directions and move their eyes and limbs. The ability to speak is also a factor. Specifically, doctors assign points to eye-opening responses, verbal responses, and motor responses. Each response has a maximum score, respectively, of four, five, and six points. A person scoring eight points or less is in a coma.

GCS points classify the head injury as:

  • Severe Head Injury – GCS score of eight or less
  • Moderate Head Injury – GCS score of nine to 12
  • Mild Head Injury – GCS score of 13 to 15

Imaging Tests

The first test to be performed will likely be a computerized tomography (CT) scan. The scan uses multiple X-rays images to create a detailed image of the brain. A CT scan will show fractures and bleeding in the brain, blood clots, brain bruises, and brain tissue swelling.

A magnetic resonance image (MRI) used radio waves and magnets to create detailed images of the brain. Doctors might use this test when the victim’s condition is stable or shows no improvement. It also is used when the CT scan did not provide sufficient detail.

Galveston Orientation & Amnesia Test (GOAT)

The GOAT measures post-traumatic amnesia. It has ten questions that assess temporal and spatial orientation. A maximum of ten points can be scored for each question, and a score of 78 indicates that the patient is emerging from post-traumatic amnesia. There is a separate version used for children.

Monitoring Intracranial Pressure

Because traumatic brain injury can cause intracranial bleeding, which has harmful effects on the brain, monitoring intracranial pressure following a head injury is critical. Severe bleeding and heightened intracranial pressure can lead to strokes and brain aneurysms, severely increasing the damage from the traumatic brain injury.

Other Diagnostic Tools

Tatiana Boohoff Managing Partner at Boohoff Law
Tatiana Boohoff, Brain Injury Lawyer

Other tests include the Glasgow Outcome Scale and the Glasgow Outcome Scale—Extended. This test examines a patient’s level of disability. The Orientation Log tests for an individual’s orientation to time, place, and circumstance over an extended period to measure amnesia. Finally, the Westmead Post-Traumatic Amnesia Scale is a brief test measuring the length of post-traumatic amnesia in patients who have sustained a brain injury.

As you have seen, the diagnosis of traumatic brain injury is a complex process. Anyone suspecting they suffered any degree of traumatic brain injury should seek medical help promptly.