In the United States, millions of deaths every year are caused by head injuries. Since the skull encases the brain, and since the brain serves as the body’s command and control center, almost any type of head injury is potentially deadly if it is serious enough. When the injury is caused by the misconduct of someone else, serious legal issues arise.
Major Types of Brain Injuries
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
TBI is caused by an external force such as a criminal assault, a slip and fall accident, a workplace accident, an auto accident, or a sports injury. The most common types of TBI include:
- Concussions: Concussions are caused by a direct blow to the head. You have probably seen someone receive a concussion before – if you’re ever watched someone get knocked out in a boxing match, anyway. Concussions cause unconsciousness in some but not all cases.
- Contusions: Although contusions are also caused by impact to the skull (including boxing KOs), they result in bleeding within the brain, sometimes resulting in a blood clot. Since blood clots are particularly likely to be lethal, a brain contusion may require neurosurgery to remove it.
- Diffuse axonal injuries: Diffuse axonal injuries are caused by powerful rotation or shaking forces. Violently shaking a baby can result in a diffuse axonal injury, for example, and can definitely be fatal. This kind of injury creates tearing injuries in the brain. And even if death does not result (which it often does), permanent brain damage can occur.
- Puncture wounds: Puncture wounds occur when something penetrates the skull and the brain – a bullet, for example. This type of TBI is very frequently fatal.
Acquired Brain Injury
Acquired brain injury doesn’t necessarily result from an external force, but it can be just as deadly. Acquired brain injuries can be classified into two types:
- Anoxia: Anoxia is the result of oxygen deprivation that may occur as a result of drowning, asphyxiation, or even certain types of poisoning, for example. When the brain is deprived of oxygen, cell death begins to occur almost immediately, and that can result in permanent brain damage or death.
- Hypoxic brain injury: Hypoxic brain injury occurs when the brain doesn’t receive sufficient levels of oxygen. It is distinguished from anoxia by the fact that in hypoxic brain injury, the brain does receive at least some oxygen. Although death is less likely to result from hypoxic brain injury than from anoxia, this condition can still be deadly.
Brain Injuries Caused by Medical Malpractice
Of course, a hospital orderly might drop a stretcher that is carrying you and thereby give you a concussion. Such an event would not likely be classified as medical malpractice, and it is not the typical way that patients receive brain injuries from medical care. When a brain injury is caused by medical malpractice, the result is usually acquired brain injury rather than traumatic brain injury (although medical malpractice can worsen either condition).
Brain injuries arising from medical malpractice are just as often caused by omission (something the doctor didn’t do that he should have done) as by commission (something inappropriate that the doctor did).
Most common forms of medical malpractice resulting in brain injury and death
There are many ways in which a doctor or other healthcare professional can cause or worsen a brain injury. Some of the most common categories of errors include:
- Anesthesia errors
- Heart attack or stroke misdiagnosis
- Birth injuries
- Medication errors (causing symptoms such as swelling of the brain, for example)
- Untreated or inadequately treated brain infections
- Failure to properly advise a patient (for example, not to participate in sports training after a concussion since a second concussion following the first concussion is often fatal)
Negligent medical care during childbirth is particularly likely to cause anoxia and hypoxic brain injury. Some of the most common forms of birth injury related medical malpractice include:
- Improper use of forceps during delivery (which can cause traumatic brain injury)
- Failure to treat medical problems suffered by the baby’s mother during pregnancy and delivery
- Inappropriate use of medications during pregnancy or during delivery
- Failure to monitor the fetus and appropriately respond to symptoms of fetal distress
- Failure to perform a c-section when it is needed
- Improper use of vacuums
- Failure to monitor the baby’s oxygen supply and to provide oxygen when needed
Symptoms of a Head Injury
Many symptoms of a head injury do not occur immediately after the event that caused the injury, and many of them are not obviously consequences of a head injury – at least from the point of view of someone who is not familiar with these conditions. These symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Balance problems
- Poor coordination
- Tremors or involuntary movements
- Memory loss
- Inability to focus the eyes
- Loss of muscle control
- Mood changes
- Discharge of clear fluid from the ear or the nose
- Other symptoms
Although experiencing, say, a headache or a dizzy spell doesn’t necessarily mean you have a head injury, you should seek medical attention immediately if these symptoms persist, become serious, or if you have reason to believe that you have suffered a head injury. Some symptoms, such as blackouts or seizures, should always be treated immediately.
Wrongful Death Claims in Connecticut
Head injuries are often fatal, but what legal action can be taken once the victim has already died? Well, Connecticut’s wrongful death statute allows the personal representative of the deceased victim’s probate estate to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible party. Any damages that are awarded are paid to the estate itself, for eventual distribution to estate beneficiaries. Damages can be awarded for:
- The victim’s medical expenses arising from the head injury that led to his death
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of the capacity to enjoy life
Compensation in a Connecticut wrongful death claim can amount to quite a lot of money as long as the personal representative and the lawyer handling the case realizes the true value of the claim.
Take Decisive Action Today
If you have suffered a head injury that was caused by someone else’s misconduct, or if your loved one died that way, it is important that you seek compensation as soon as possible – your claim might be worth far more than you think it is. Call Berkowitz Hanna today or contact us online to schedule a free case consultation. We take cases from throughout Connecticut from our offices in Stamford, Bridgeport, Danbury and Shelton.