Our Chicago brain injury attorneys have long fought to make the public aware of the serious, severe, and lifelong effects of a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. It is often difficult, however, to get an insurer or jury to focus on those effects and side effects of TBI that may not manifest until years after the injury itself.
Traumatic brain injury is caused by injury to the head, such as a blow, bump, or fall, which interferes with the brain’s normal functions. The most common form of TBIs are concussions. Although extremely serious, particularly if ignored or improperly treated, concussions are generally not life-threatening. However, although most people who suffer a concussion make a full recovery, some victims – particularly the elderly, young children, and teenagers – suffer effects well after the injury, or even permanently. In addition to concussions, there are many more serious forms of TBI, which range in severity from very mild to immediately fatal. The largest categories of traumatic brain injuries in the United States are brain injury in car accidents (around 28%) and sports (around 20%).
It is human nature to want to think of injuries, including TBI, as having a recovery period – and once that recovery has taken place, the injury is over. But the truth is that even after a victim of TBI resumes a “normal” life, or as close to normal as they are going to get if the injury is severe enough, there are still scores of problems that may not exist or become evident for years to come. Yet these problems are still the result of the TBI, or at least exacerbated by it.
That is why the new proposal from researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston is so encouraging to our top brain injury lawyers. These researchers, who in the Journal of Neurotrauma conduct a thorough review of the available scientific literature on TBI, propose that TBI be reclassified. Although TBI is at present treated as a serious injury, they propose that it instead be viewed, classified, and treated as a chronic disease triggered by a serious injury.
Such a reclassification would more adequately recognize the lifelong problems and risks associated with TBI. Individuals who have suffered a TBI are at greater risk of developing epilepsy, for example, and can do so years after the injury. Likewise, TBI victims are more likely to develop conditions from sleep apnea to neuroendocrine disorders, certain psychiatric disorders, as well as non-neurological disorders including sexual dysfunction. More predictably, TBI victims are likewise at a higher risk of neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s or dementia, and can even develop a degenerative condition that mimics Lou Gehrig’s disease and has until very recently been misdiagnosed as such. The heightened risk of these problems throughout a victim’s lifetime certainly makes TBI more akin to a chronic disease that a one-time injury with a discreet recovery period.
Nor are the results of reclassifying TBI are not strictly academic. The authors themselves recognize that such a reclassification would make it easier to persuade insurers to cover the true costs of TBI. And patients’ outcomes could be substantially improved, as the “chronic disease” of TBI would then be prominent in a patient’s health history, and healthcare providers would then be better educated and able to monitor these patients for the emergence of TBI-associated conditions later in life.
The reclassification could also favorably impact lawsuits involving TBI. Reclassifying TBI as a chronic disease whose effects often include these related conditions would make it easier to convince a court or jury that these effects are simply a part of the average cost of living with TBI, making it easier to obtain compensation. Even were we not convinced that the reclassification would best reflect the true nature of TBI, our Chicago brain injury attorneys would welcome the reclassification for that reason, alone.
One of the article’s co-authors was Brent Masel, a clinical associate professor in the University’s neurology department, as well as the president and director of a brain injury rehab center called the Transitional Learning Center. The other author was Douglas DeWitt, a professor in the University’s department of anesthesiology.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago brain injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.