Car accident concussions are one of the most painful and devastating potential results of an automobile collision. The need to see a doctor immediately following a car accident cannot be emphasized enough, since hidden injuries like concussions can be even more devastating than the obvious ones. Most concussions are not life threatening, but some are, so you should always be evaluated by a doctor to rule out a serious brain injury—or to be treated if you are unlucky enough to have sustained one.
Although most concussion victims do make a full recovery, you may experience serious symptoms from a car accident concussion that are uncomfortable, traumatic, debilitating, and depressing. You may need to miss time at work during your recovery, and you may require expensive therapy should your condition last longer than a few weeks.
Concussions are not always straightforward to treat, and the insurance company may try to claim your diagnosis is inconclusive or that your symptoms predated the crash. Car accident victims must seek out an experienced, reputable car accident attorney with a track record of winning cases in order to maximize their settlement and have the time and funds necessary to recover fully from all of their injuries.
What is a Concussion?
A concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that may be caused by an impact to the head, significant shaking of the head as in a whiplash injury, or some other action that causes the brain to bounce around inside the skull, stretching and damaging the cells and structures of the brain, potentially causing physical and chemical changes and disruptions. Concussions are commonly caused by impact in contact sports, violent assaults, and car accidents. If you’ve had any kind of head and/or neck injury after a vehicle collision that causes symptoms such as tiredness, mental confusion or difficulty concentrating, dizziness, visual afflictions, tiredness, headache, or sensitivity to light or noise, its imperative you seek immediate evaluation as these are all indicative of car accident concussions. You may lose consciousness as a result of a concussion, but many people do not.
Concussions are categorized by three grades:
- Grade 1 — A mild concussion that does not cause loss of consciousness but may cause amnesia for up to 30 minutes.
- Grade 2 — Loss of consciousness accompanied by 30 minutes to 24 hours of amnesia.
- Grade 3 — Loss of consciousness for more than 5 minutes or amnesia lasting for more than 24 hours.
The dangers of concussions have been brought to the forefront over the last few years due to the prevalence among football players of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes and others who have sustained repeated TBIs. Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, depression, and dementia and may take years or even decades to surface. Because CTE can only be diagnosed after the afflicted person is deceased, it is unknown how many current and former athletes are suffering with it.
According to the CDC, traumatic brain injuries are a major health problem in the United States. TBIs are implicated in 30 percent of all injury deaths, and an average of 153 people die in the United States every day with TBI as a cause or partial cause. In 2013, there were approximately 2.8 million emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths that were related to a traumatic brain injury. The most common causes of TBIs are falls, being struck by or against an object, and motor vehicle accidents.
How are Concussions Treated?
If you or a loved one has been involved in an incident involving a blow to the head or violent shaking of the head, it is important to seek medical treatment immediately so that bleeding or swelling in the skull can be ruled out via CT scan or MRI. Assuming that there is no immediate danger, treatment of car accident concussions involves taking measures to reduce stress on the brain. In order to recover, it’s imperative to avoid the following:
- Watching TV
- Using a phone
- Working on the computer
- Playing video games and sports
The best course of action is to rest and take time off from work and school to promote healing of the brain.
Acetaminophen can be used to relieve headaches (ibuprofen may increase the risk of bleeding). Most car accident concussions will resolve within two to four weeks, and you can slowly begin to return to your normal activities under a doctor’s supervision as symptoms wear off.
What is Post Concussion Syndrome?
When a concussion does not resolve after a month or two, the extended symptoms are called post concussion syndrome (PCS). Anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of concussion victims will experience PCS. Those most at risk for PCS include women, older people, those who’ve experienced a prior concussion, and those who had a severe precipitating event.
Symptoms of PCS include all of those associated with a concussion, but typically they are worse and more prominent. These include further dizziness, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, sensory disruptions, headaches, and emotional and personality changes. PCS can affect one’s personal and professional life over the long term.
How is PCS Treated?
Since no two cases of PCS are exactly alike, treatment options vary by patient and by doctor. Here are some of the main ways that the symptoms can be treated:
Vision therapies — PCS sufferers may experience a range of visual impairments. Disturbances may occur to the patient’s scanning and tracking ability, gaze stability, eye teaming (the ability of the two eyes to work together), peripheral awareness, ability to focus, perception and processing skills, and others. Special glasses may be prescribed that can aid in visual stability and improve spatial processing. Visual exercises done at home and with a therapist can also help to restore normal eyesight.
Physical therapies — When victims continue to suffer from headaches for more than one or two months after their initial accident, physical therapy may be able to speed up recovery. Massages, exercise therapy, and heat treatments can help to resolve other injuries sustained at the time of the accident that may be compounding the effects of the concussion. Sometimes, healing these other injuries through physical therapy can remove the stress, physical or mental, that is exacerbating the headaches.
Exertion therapies — Moderate exercise under the supervision of a medical professional may alleviate some of the lingering symptoms of car accident concussions. Non-strenuous movement on a treadmill, in a pool, or another safe environment may simply get the body going again, helping it to repair damage and promote overall wellness. Exertion therapy should never put stress on the system and should always build slowly.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy — When car accident concussions leave victims with mood or personality changes such as depression or anxiety, CBT may help provide them with concrete skills and coping strategies that allow them to address their thoughts and mental habits and make changes that support their psychological healing.
How Do Concussions Occur?
Car accident concussions can result from the impact of the head against the steering wheel, headrest, window, or other part of the car, or from an impact sustained after being ejected from the vehicle. The other cause is a whiplash injury, which occurs after being violently shaken, as when your vehicle stops quickly and your body is thrown forward with a great deal of force and then quickly snapped back.
Signs and Symptoms of Car Accident Concussions
Car accident concussions cause a variety of symptoms. Even if you are cleared by a doctor, be on the lookout for the following symptoms for the next few days and weeks, as it may take time for them to surface.
Losing consciousness after an accident — Losing consciousness from the impact or from whiplash is a clear sign that you’ve had a concussion, even if you black out only for a few seconds.
Headaches and migraines – Intense headaches that will not go away are a sign of a concussion.
Nausea – You may experience dizziness, nausea, and vertigo after a concussion.
Cognitive abnormalities – Confusion, concentration difficulty, brain fog, delayed response, and memory problems may accompany a concussion, and it may take hours or days for them to manifest.
Sleep changes — You may find it more difficult to fall asleep, or you may be sleeping more or less than before the accident if you’ve experienced a concussion.
Mood changes — A concussion may cause irritability, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts; contact your doctor immediately if you notice personality changes along these lines.
Sensory changes – Impaired or blurry vision, seeing stars, sensitivity to light and noise, taste or olfactory disturbances, and ringing in the ears all may indicate that you’ve suffered a concussion.
Speech and communication problems — Slurred speech, mixing up words, or inability to find words may signal a concussion.
Seizures — A very severe concussion may cause seizures.
Preventing a Concussion
Considering the prevalence and danger of head trauma, it is important to understand how to take steps to avoid sustaining a concussion in the first place.
Vehicle precautions — In the car, the driver and passengers should be wearing seatbelts at all times. Children should use appropriate car seats that are properly installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The driver should not engage in any distracting behaviors while driving, including eating, grooming, or using a phone. Navigation systems should be set and playlists should be adjusted to your preferences before you set out on the road. And of course, never drink or use drugs before driving.
Head protection — As the documentation of the dangers of contact sports would suggest, protective gear such as helmets should be worn on a bike, and while playing sports like ice hockey and football.
Home safety — Evaluate your home for any fall-inducing obstacles that may lead to accidents. Stairways should have sturdy rails, any potentially dangerous areas (indoor and outdoor) should be well-lit, furniture should only be used as intended and ladders should be used properly, and any windows accessible by children should be fitted with bars to keep them from falling. Never leave small children unattended outdoors or near swimming pools.
Personal Injury Claims for Car Accident Concussions
Car accident concussions are by no means easy to prove or obtain damages for. It is extremely important to document the accident and your injuries as fully and diligently as possible. Working with an experienced car accident lawyer who understands all of the statutes involved and knows how to navigate the territory is crucial in obtaining a fair settlement.
Reports and Documentation
Get evaluated by a medical professional right after an accident — A car accident is scary and traumatic, and afterwards most people want to go straight home to relax. However, the single most important thing you can do for your health and your legal position is to see a doctor immediately after the accident. Remember that the invisible injuries from a car accident can be the deadliest, and you will require a doctor’s corroboration of your injuries should you choose to pursue litigation. Always go to a doctor or to the emergency room following an accident.
Record your recollection of the accident – As soon as you are well enough, record all of the details of the accident. You may do this via pen and paper, type it into your computer or phone, or even use a voice capture app on your phone. Unless there happens to be a traffic camera that captured the incident, this is the best account you will have of the events leading up to the accident. Due to confusion and adrenaline on the scene, you may not remember the details later. What was the weather like? Were any pedestrians or third parties involved? Did the other driver ignore a traffic light or break another law? If possible, take photo/video evidence immediately after the crash, or ask someone else to do so.
Get a crash report from the police — A police report summarizes all of the facts of the accident according to the officer who investigated the crash. It includes information such as:
- The time, date, and location of the accident.
- Contact information for the parties involved.
- Witness statements.
- Conditions at the scene.
- Summary of vehicle damage.
- Violations of the law.
- An opinion as to the cause of the accident.
The insurance company will obtain a copy of the report in order to conduct their investigation, and you should have a copy as well.
Proving the other driver’s fault — In order to be compensated for your injuries, you must prove that the accident was caused by the other driver’s negligence.
Proving the accident caused your symptoms — Your prior medical records will be compared against your post-accident evaluation, so seeing a doctor immediately after the crash and following up regularly will establish any new symptoms that occurred as a result of the accident. It’s important to understand that an exacerbation of symptoms is also relevant; if you had minor back pain beforehand but now are unable to work due to the injuries you sustained in the crash, that is important as well. Similarly, if you previously experienced occasional migraine headaches but a car accident concussion has intensified your attacks and created additional symptoms, this must be evaluated and documented by a physician so you can receive compensation.
Proving the symptoms are due to a concussion and/or PCS — While symptoms of a concussion and post concussion syndrome can be vague and potentially attributable to other medical issues, careful documentation by your doctor can show that their onset/aggravation was due to the car accident concussion you sustained.
Damages for car accident concussions fall into two broad categories: special damages and general damages. Special damages (also known as “out-of-pocket” loss) are damages for which money is a comparable substitute for what was lost. For example, if you lose $3000 in income because you had to take time off from work to recover from your concussion and you are compensated $3000 by the defendant to cover this loss, that qualifies as special damages. General damages provide financial compensation for non-economic losses. Compensation for pain and suffering is an example of general damages.
Consider all of the types of damages below and document any losses that you have experienced or will experience as a result of your injuries.
Lost wages — Lost income from part-time or full-time work, self-employment, occasional work, as well as sick leave and vacation pay that you may have used in order to recuperate from your injuries. Proof may come via a simple letter from your employer, previous billing or invoices, and/or the previous year’s tax return.
Lost earning capacity — To determine your damages for future lost earning capacity, present a doctor’s assessment of your injuries and when you may expect to return to a normal workload, or an opinion that you won’t be able to at all. If some of your injuries will be permanent, you must provide evidence showing what you would have earned had you not been injured as well as any likely promotions and salary increases you would have expected to receive over time.
Medical expenses — Whether or not you are insured, you may sue for any money that has been paid by your insurer, by you personally, or by Medicaid on your behalf.
Pain and suffering — Keep a log of headaches, sleep disturbances, missed work or activities, and other information that can show your experience of pain and suffering. Take photos of bruises or other injuries as they are healing. Keep up with doctor visits to document your progress and ask for pain medication if you need it as another concrete indicator of pain and suffering.
Humiliation and embarrassment — Disfigurement, changes in your ability to communicate, and loss of regular mobility may cause you to experience humiliation and embarrassment. Document any specific humiliating experiences you have or incidents of embarrassment at work or other venues.
Shock and mental anguish — You may be able to receive compensation if the accident caused fear, anxiety, depression, grief or trauma. Maybe you are afraid to drive or even leave the house since your accident or maybe you are unable to take care of your family due to depression or grief over your injuries. Make sure to seek professional help for these problems and document them for yourself.
Loss of consortium — The injured person’s family or spouse may receive damages for loss of consortium if the person is no longer able to contribute to family life as he or she had previously.
Emotional distress — Negative emotional reactions to your injuries or the accident may include panic attacks, anxiety, crying spells, depression, PTSD, and more. Again, document occasions of emotional distress you experience and communicate them to a doctor or psychologist, who can evaluate and corroborate them.
Potential Pitfalls in Proving Damages
Due to the nature of car accident concussions, there are potential issues in obtaining a just payout for your injuries. A concussion does not necessarily have physical signs, and its symptoms can be mistaken for any number of other illnesses and syndromes.
Diagnosis is not always straightforward, and some healthcare professionals may disagree as to the cause of your symptoms. Treatment protocols may work for some and not others, and whether or not you have made a full recovery from your injuries may be open to dispute.
In order to claim damages for pain and suffering, your doctor must support the narrative that it was the accident—not a pre-existing condition—that caused your symptoms. Keep a diary of your concussion and PCS symptoms, and make sure that your doctor can support the fact that they were caused by the accident. If your case goes to trial, your attorney will work closely with you to determine the best way to communicate to the jury how your injury has affected you personally and professionally.
Need a Personal Injury Lawyer for a Car Accident Concussion?
Car accident concussions can be devastating. They are painful, have a potential multitude of symptoms, and can keep you from work and family obligations for weeks if not months due to post concussion syndrome. Your treatment may require a multi-faceted approach, causing you to visit multiple doctors and therapists and potentially requiring much trial and error before finding a protocol that works. In order to get the compensation you deserve, you need an experienced car accident lawyer who will fight relentlessly on your behalf.
Donaghue & Labrum has been representing victims of car accidents for decades. We know how to prove car accident concussions were sustained by motor vehicle accidents and not by other means. But don’t take our word for it—we’ll show you our record of going up against the powerful insurance companies and winning settlements and verdicts for people who were unlucky enough to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. You and your family are counting on the law to help you through this difficult time and ensure that your bills are paid and you’re compensated for your losses. The attorneys of Donaghue & Labrum will not rest until justice is done.
Contact us for a free consultation at either of our convenient Media and West Chester offices, or we will be happy to visit you in your home if that is preferable. Don’t wait— call us today and put your mind at rest so you can start the healing process and get back to your life as soon as possible.