COMMON INJURIES IN AUTOMOBILE WRECKS: TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURIES AND VESTIBULAR IMBALANCES
The human body is not meant to withstand the forces unleashed when several thousands of pounds of steel collide. The advent of seatbelts, airbags, collision avoidance systems, lane alarms, and other safety measures has certainly made cars safer generally and undoubtedly prevented even more severe injuries than would have happened in an earlier era. However, despite the advances of modern technology, there are still common injuries we see in the many automobile collision cases that we handle. And two of the most serious injuries are traumatic brain injuries and vestibular imbalances. Indeed, these injuries often present together and can have a causal connection.
According to the Neurosciences Center at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital (TMH), “[t]raumatic Brain Injury (TBI) occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain.” Of the two types of TBI, Closed Head Injury (CHI), and penetrating injury, the most common TBI we see in our clients is CHI. “A CHI occurs when the head violently and abruptly hits an object and the brain reverberates within the skull.” In an automobile wreck, the mechanism of injury can be the head striking the steering wheel (even with a seatbelt on), or the head hitting the driver or passenger side windows when the collision occurs on that side of the car. Of course, we have also seen CHI caused by unbelted drivers or passengers hitting the windshield with their heads.
The symptoms of TBI are varied, but the TMH Neurosciences Center has summarized them as follows:
Mild Symptoms of TBI
- May remain conscious or may lose consciousness for a few seconds or minutes
- Headache, fatigue, confusion
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Behavioral or sleep changes
- Blurred vision or tired eyes
- Ringing in ears or bad taste in mouth
- Trouble with memory, concentration, attention or thinking
Moderate or Severe Symptoms of TBI
A person who has sustained a moderate or severe TBI may have some or all of the symptoms below. They may also have any or all of the symptoms associated with mild TBI.
- Headache gets worse or does not go away
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Convulsions or seizures
- Inability to awaken from sleep
- Dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes
- Slurred speech
- Weakness or numbness in the extremities
Obviously, it is imperative to get to the emergency room if any of these symptoms manifest themselves after an automobile wreck. These are not injuries that can be “slept off” or ignored. Many of our clients have had very successful recoveries from TBIs, but only because they quickly sought the professional care of emergency room doctors and later treating neurologists. If in doubt after an automobile wreck, always seek immediate medical care. Symptoms can arise quickly or sometimes more slowly, over days and weeks. Only with the expert eyes of trained professionals can these serious and potentially life-changing injuries be successfully treated.
According to Brian D. Greenwald, M.D., roughly 30 – 65% of patients with TBIs suffer from dizziness and disequilibrium at some point in their post-injury treatment. Dizziness symptoms includes lightheadedness, vertigo (illusion of movement in the absence of actual movement) and imbalance. Anyone who has drank to excess and then laid down but felt like the room was spinning can attest to the helpless feeling of vertigo.
Vestibular impairments often arise from damage to the patient’s inner ear, which contains tiny organs that help maintain balance. If your vestibular system is damaged from a TBI, problems with balance, dizziness or a sudden sensation that you are spinning can quickly arise.
As with TBIs, any symptoms of vestibular imbalance should be immediately treated at the emergency room and subsequently with qualified professionals, such as physiatrists, neurologists and neuro-ophthalmalogists. There are numerous treatment options available and many of our clients have successfully recovered from what can be very harrowing experiences post-injury. As always, if in doubt, seek qualified medical care as soon after the injury as possible. Time is of the essence, so that short-term injury does not turn into a lifelong disability.
By Attorney Harry Graham