The life-altering Effects of an Acquired Brain Injury
In Canada, brain injury is the foremost cause of death and long-term disability for persons under the age of 40. Currently, about 1.5 million Canadians are living with an acquired brain injury. Acquired brain injury is a brain injury that was sustained after birth and was caused by an injury or disease, rather than a congenital condition.
Acquired brain injuries may be traumatic or non-traumatic. A traumatic brain injury is a brain injury than results from blunt force trauma that originates outside of the body, such as a blow to the head. Car accidents, cycling accidents, motorcycle accidents, falls, assaults, sports injuries and shaken baby syndrome are leading causes of traumatic brain injury. A non-traumatic acquired brain injury results from disease or an adverse event that occurs inside the body and damages brain tissue, such as stroke, seizures, poisoning, brain tumours, substance abuse, encephalitis and meningitis.
Acquired brain injuries range from mild to severe and can cause a wide variety of symptoms and effects, but even a mild brain injury, such as concussion, may have life-long and devastating consequences. Brain injury is a complex condition and every person is impacted differently – brain injury symptoms may appear immediately after the triggering event or may only be felt days or weeks later, and each person may experience different symptoms and with varying severity. The recovery process also takes a unique path for each person.
Of all forms of injury, brain injury is most likely to result in debilitating changes. That’s because traumatic brain injury (TBI) can have physical, emotional, psychological, behavioural and cognitive consequences and can adversely affect every aspect of an individual’s ability to function and quality of life. The following are potential symptoms and changes arising from TBI.
- Difficulty sleeping and fatigue
- Chronic pain, headaches
- Vertigo, dizziness and balancing problems
- Poor coordination, including hand-eye coordination
- Reduced muscle strength and mobility
- Speech, hearing and vision problems
- Sensory changes - ringing in the ears or an altered sense of taste or smell
- Seizures, infections
- Bladder and bowel problems
- Paralysis of facial muscles
- Forgetfulness, memory problems
- Difficulty concentrating, easily distracted
- Difficulty making decisions and planning
- Slowed thinking
- Communication problems in speech and writing, difficulty finding the right words and understanding conversations
- Difficulty multi-tasking
- Tendency to get stuck on a particular topic or idea (perseveration)
Emotional and behavioural symptoms
- Easily frustrated and prone to anger
- Depression and anxiety
- Limited emotional response
- Difficulty empathizing with others and reading non-verbal cues
- Inappropriate social behaviour and comments, a lack of filter
- Risky and impulsive behaviours, lack of self control
- Breakdown in social relationships with family, friends and coworkers
- Loss of intimacy
- Isolation, feeling a loss of identity
- Becoming dependent on others
Rolley v. MacDonell (2018) is a personal injury lawsuit that was commenced after a 54-year-old husband and father sustained a severe head injury when he was hit by a car while walking across the street at an intersection. The injured man had a complex medical history and more than 12 pre-existing conditions; however, the pedestrian accident caused serious injuries and symptoms that were distinguishable from his pre-existing injuries. In his claim, the plaintiff alleged he suffered the following injuries and conditions as a result of the accident:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Worsening of his pre-existing chronic pain
- Post-concussion syndrome
- Depression and adjustment disorder
- Somatic symptom disorder
- Post-traumatic vision syndrome
The judge in Rolley believed the evidence supported the plaintiff’s claim that he suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the pedestrian accident. Factors commonly used in making a TBI diagnosis were all present in the current case: a brief loss of consciousness, retrograde amnesia, confusion after the accident, and forceful acceleration-deceleration forces at the time of collision. Also, the plaintiff exhibited many of the effects and symptoms of TBI, including concentration problems, easily sidetracked, headaches, memory problems, anxiety, depression, perseveration, difficulty sleeping, physical and mobility impairments, loss of confidence, easily angered and frustrated, and intimacy problems. The plaintiff testified that the brain injury also aggravated his pre-accident chronic pain syndrome and as a result, he can no longer effectively manage his pain.
Medical evidence and lay witness testimony presented in the Rolley trial substantiated the profound and adverse effect of the plaintiff’s injuries on his social and familial relationships, his ability to participate in activities with friends and family (that he previously enjoyed), and his ability to cope with normal activities. The plaintiff is no longer able to work. He doesn’t remember how to get to driving destinations that he visited on countless occasions. He is incapable of having meaningful discussions and interactions with his children and spouse. And, he is now the one who needs support, rather than the caregiver for his family.
The judge found the defendant driver negligent and liable for the plaintiff’s injuries and awarded the accident victim almost $1.9 Million in damages. Damages did not include a loss of income award because the plaintiff was already receiving long-term disability and CPP benefits. The plaintiff’s wife and son were also awarded damages for loss of care, guidance and companionship, and past attendant care services.
Milicic v. Liberty Entertainment Group (2019) is a civil action that arose after a young man was assaulted, without provocation, by three men while attending a New Year’s Eve Party at a Toronto hotel. The plaintiff lost consciousness and fell to the ground when he was unexpectedly hit in the head from behind, and the men continued to strike and kick him repeatedly in the head. The assault resulted in a mild TBI (concussion) and caused his jaw to be broken in multiple places. The plaintiff underwent surgery to repair his jaw and eventually recovered from his face and jaw injuries, but continues to suffer from post-concussion symptoms, including chronic headaches, memory problems, fatigue, sleep difficulties, difficulty eating and mood swings. The plaintiff also experienced loss of hearing on one side and exhibits post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which is not unusual for victims of assault.
The plaintiff in Milicic was a new immigrant and professional soccer player at the time of the assault, but his soccer career ended 6 months later due to a knee injury. He had no career training or education beyond high school, but started a new business installing doors and windows after he could no longer play soccer. In determining damages in this case, the judge found that the plaintiff’s loss of a soccer career could not be attributed to the assault, however, he awarded the plaintiff $50,000 in damages for a loss of competitive advantage due to the limitations caused by his injuries. The plaintiff was also awarded $125,000 for pain and suffering and $25,000 for cost of future medical treatments not covered by OHIP.
Clearly, traumatic brain injury is a challenging and often, debilitating condition for accident victims, but family members are also substantially impacted. In the aftermath of a brain injury, family members are naturally concerned about the effect of the injury on their loved one and how the family will cope going forward. It’s difficult to adjust to the changes and possible loss of friendship, parenting or intimacy that was previously shared with the injured person. As a result, it’s not uncommon for family members to suffer from psychological and emotional conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
A brain injury in the family also often results in an increased financial burden due to a loss of income, rehabilitation expenses, home maintenance costs and other expenses associated with the injury. And, family members who assume the role of sole provider and/or caregiver carry a financial and psychological burden that can feel overwhelming.
If you or a loved one sustained an acquired brain injury and would like to make a claim for damages against the negligent party, talk to an experienced brain injury lawyer at Dietrich Law. We have helped many clients who experienced injury or loss due to an acquired brain injury and we understand the stress and challenges experienced by TBI victims and their families. We invite you to a no-obligation consultation to find out about your legal rights in the matter and our strategy for obtaining just compensation.