The tragic loss of actress Natasha Richardson illustrates something that lawyers who help people with traumatic brain injury from auto accidents see all of the time: People can appear deceptively normal following a car accident — but still suffer severe brain injury.
According to Dr. Carmelo Graffagnino, director of Duke University Medical Center’s Neurosciences Critical Care Unit: “It’s very common for someone who’s had a fall or been in a car accident to appear perfectly lucid just after the impact but then to suddenly, rapidly deteriorate.”
Defense lawyers and auto insurance companies always focus on the lack of initial complaints:
* That there was no loss of consciousness;
* That there was no diagnosis of traumatic brain injury in the emergency room; and
* The person appeared normal at the accident scene.
But as Natasha Richardson’s tragedy demonstrates, people can indeed have serious brain injury with no loss of consciousness and a normal ER examination following an accident. She was reportedly talking and laughing after her skiing accident. Moreover, her fall was on a “bunny hill,” where she was taking a lesson with her child. The impact force to her brain would be far less than most people would suffer in the most minimal of auto accidents with very little or no vehicle damage.
In a CNN story, Graffagnino explained one of the things he teaches to trauma teams, “is if a group of people are in a car crash and someone dies, we have to assume everyone else has serious injuries.” The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that approximately 1.5 million to 2 million people incur TBI each year in the United States, principally resulting from car accidents.
Understanding TBI: Brain Injury is a Process, Not an Event
Michigan Traumatic brain injury lawyers and victims must be aware of the critical difference between brain injury and almost every other type of injury a person can suffer. It involves understanding the difference between an event and a process. For example, a broken arm is an event. The arm is either fractured or it is not fractured. You can have an X-ray and see that the arm is in fact broken.
On the other hand, most types of traumatic brain injury occur as a process. Injury to the brain continues to occur for hours and sometimes even days after a traumatic event, whether that event is from a car or truck accident, or an IED in Iraq. The brain begins to undergo chemical changes and microscopic tearing and swelling caused by diffuse axonal injury. This is why people who have suffered a brain injury from an auto accident, even one that may prove deadly, may not appear injured at the scene. Again, the devastating, and sometimes deadly consequences of brain injury will advance in hours, days and weeks after a traumatic event, even one as innocuous as a fall on a bunny hill.
The “Talk and Die Syndrome” that took Natasha Richardson’s life is simply a more extreme example of what happens to thousands of accident victims in this country every year.
Crucial TBI Advice for Accident Victims from Traumatic Brian Injury Lawyer
Check with your ER.
If you look at most discharge instructions from emergency rooms in and around the Metro Detroit area, you will see they clearly indicate that an ER is an acute care center only, and it is not meant to diagnose or rule out traumatic brain injury. Additionally, most hospital ER discharge instructions warn that if symptoms from a head injury either begin to occur or begin to get worse — such as headaches, nausea, dizziness or difficulties with memory and concentration — it’s vital to see a doctor or return to the emergency room IMMEDIATELY.
The best advice I can give as a lawyer who frequently helps people with TBI is this: If symptoms appear in the hours, days or weeks following a car accident, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Hopefully the tragic loss of Natasha Richardson can serve as an important lesson for people who might otherwise dismiss or ignore serious symptoms until it’s too late.
If you or someone you know has suffered brain injury as a result of a car accident in Michigan, we can guide you through the complicated legal process and help obtain the benefits and compensation you need. Because our lawyers have been handling brain injury cases for more than 50 years, we understand the physical, emotional and psychological hardships that TBI victims experience. Please call Michigan Auto Law at (800) 777-0028 for a case evaluation with no fee or obligation, or fill out our free consultation form.
— Steve Gursten is a member of the American Association for Justice Traumatic Brian Injury Group and lectures on TBI throughout the country. In 2008, he received a trial verdict of $5.65 million for a TBI victim; the largest reported personal injury verdict in Michigan for the year.
Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Southfield, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights. For more information, please refer to our quick facts.