Dr. Harrison Martland first described chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 1928 when he described a group of boxers as having punch drunk syndrome. Over the next 75 years, several researchers reported similar findings in boxers and other victims of brain trauma, but fewer than 50 cases were confirmed. In 2005, a pathologist named Bennet Omalu published the first evidence of CTE in an American football player: former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster.
It is a relatively newly recognized issue, and there is much to learn about it – particularly when it comes to its diagnosis. This fact is especially problematic considering the symptoms are much like those of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and currently, there is no way to discover CTE in a living person. Still, one can be aware of their symptoms and prepare their estate representative or family members for a potential lawsuit following a postmortem diagnosis of CTE to provide some chance of holding responsible parties accountable and obtaining some compensation to cover the emotional and financial toll taken by the CTE.
CTE is a neurodegenerative disease that develops most often from experiencing repeated blows to the head or injury to the brain. Most commonly, people hear about this disease in the context of retired football players who develop it after a career of repeated hits to the head. Still, CTE doesn’t only affect professional football players.
Many athletes can be prone to experiencing CTE, such as professional boxers, hockey players, martial arts fighters, and other professional athletes who play combat-intensive sports. However, these are not the only group of people susceptible to CTE. Construction workers or someone who regularly plays in recreational sports leagues could be at risk.
Risk factors like domestic abuse, physical altercations, or anything that exposes someone to repeated blows to the head can all eventually cause CTE. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease that has a prolonged pathology and is considered chronic.
Symptoms of CTE do not appear right away following repeated head trauma. It can take eight to ten years for symptoms to begin to reveal themselves. The symptoms of CTE occur in four different stages, progressing and getting more severe with each stage. In the first stage, one might experience headaches, confusion, disorientation, and dizziness. These will begin mildly but will start to increase in severity over time. In the second stage of CTE, one will experience memory loss, social instability, impulsive behavior, and poor judgment. These second-stage symptoms do not replace the first-stage symptoms but rather add to them. One can still expect to feel headaches, confusion, disorientation, and dizziness.
In the third and fourth stages, things begin to get severe and debilitating. Symptoms in these stages can include dementia, movement disorders, hypomimia, speech impediments, sensory processing disorders, tremors, vertigo, deafness, and suicidality. Hypomimia is the loss of the ability to make facial expressions as one normally would. All of these symptoms of the last two stages are signs of a neurological issue and endemic of the potential presence of CTE in the individual’s brain.
The reason CTE causes these symptoms is because of the changes to the brain it leads to. For example, loss of brain weight, problems with the functioning of certain brain areas, and atrophy of vital parts of the brain like the brain stem.
Unfortunately, medical science cannot detect these physical changes to the brain in a living individual. As it stands now, there is no way to medically diagnose an individual with CTE with any scientific certainty except through performing an autopsy on the deceased person’s brain. This means that even if you feel like you have the symptoms of CTE, you cannot get a medical diagnosis while you are still alive.
This means that for litigation purposes, if you think you have CTE and wish to sue the responsible party for exposing you to repeated blows to the head in the past that you believe led to your symptoms, you cannot sue before you die. There is no way to produce evidence that you indeed have CTE.
You may sue for brain damage or injury, but you cannot specifically set out evidence showing that you have CTE while you are alive. Thus, as is the case with the high-profile football players who have passed away from this disease, any lawsuit based on CTE must be brought by the victim’s family or representatives’ postmortem.
If you have been subjected to significant and frequent brain trauma or blows to the head, it is important to take notice of the symptoms of CTE. Establishing a record of your symptoms and how they adversely affect your life and, perhaps eventually, lead to your death could help if a family member wants to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. This way, you have evidence should a medical professional make a CTE diagnosis following your death. Doing this will help your family recover the proper amount of damages for the wrongs done to you in giving you this fatal chronic degenerative disease.
Another benefit is when you hold a liable party accountable for wrongdoing; they are less likely to continue that behavior in the future. So it is important to keep note of the symptoms described below as they could prove essential for any lawsuit brought on your behalf by your loved ones.
Along with no ability to diagnose the disorder in a living person, people with CTE unfortunately also lack access to any available cure for the disorder. People with symptoms are often treated like patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia and merely given supportive treatment to help ease the symptoms and the patient’s suffering. The symptoms will keep progressing until death occurs, unfortunately. The best you can do is watch out for these symptoms and ask for an autopsy after death to find a diagnosis of CTE if you wish to file a lawsuit out of such an unfortunate situation.
A: Each state sets its own statute of limitations for a wrongful death suit. In the case of CTE, it often starts when a medical professional makes a CTE diagnosis after death.
A: You cannot; you need a diagnosis to prove harm to recover in a lawsuit.
A: No, the medical diagnosis must not be speculative.
A: No, any repeated head blows or head trauma in the past can potentially lead to CTE no matter what profession.
A: Currently, there is not. You can undergo psychological therapy and medical treatments designed to alleviate some of the symptoms. A lawyer might help you recover compensation for the costs associated with them, and your pain and suffering, if the injuries stemmed from somebody’s negligence.