Here are some frightening statistics: did you know that almost 500,000 children up to age 14 suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI) every year in our country? That 435,000 are rushed to an emergency room and almost 2,700 of them pass? And that the number one cause of these injuries is (you guessed it) auto accidents, which cause nearly 40 percent of them?
These shocking numbers don’t do justice to the everyday reality of the parents of TBI patients. First come the gut-wrenching questions. Will my child be able to return to school? Will he or she have a normal childhood, be able to reach her full potential, or in the worst cases, ever wake up from a coma? The best doctors will not have immediate answers and the wait-and-see can be agonizing.
Next comes the practical aspects of TBI. Treatment costs a huge amount of money. Pediatric TBI costs more than $1.5 billion total every year in hospital charges alone, with more than half of that cost arising out of car wreck-caused brain injuries. TBI treatment and rehabilitation is incredibly expensive. And parents want, and should get, the best medical care possible for their child.
A child’s brain is different from an adult’s, and so the treatments and impact also differ. Experts no longer believe the myth that the plasticity of a younger brain makes recovery more likely. Doctors now recognize that the injury to a developing brain is much more complex. Making the issue more complicated, the overall impact of TBI may not manifest until adulthood.
For this reason, long-term rehabilitation strategies are directed toward a young person’s specific needs. Similarly, a legal recovery also must take into account long-term considerations.
For example, insurance companies often claim that a child’s future accomplishments are speculative and try to minimize their value. In truth, the brain injury interferes with the teen’s opportunities to reach her full potential and she should be compensated for this.
According to a recent article in The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, records from emergency rooms in 2009 and 2010 showed that only 9% of patients tested with a CT scan were diagnosed with a TBI. The majority of patients who had suffered a mild TBI, often in car accidents, did not get diagnosed. The article suggested that ERs need to have better screening tools to diagnose brain injuries.
In addition, defense attorneys for insurance companies can argue that if the ER did not find that a crash victim was diagnosed with a brain injury immediately after a collision, he could not possibly have sustained one when this may not be the case. This article can be used to refute that defense.
During my 37 years of practicing auto accident recovery law, I have seen too many of these heart-breaking cases. The anguish of waiting for a child to regain consciousness must be indescribable for the family. Even in claims for so-called mild brain injury, concerns about the impact on a child’s future can be overwhelming.
There are over 145,000 of our young people under the age of 20 living with a long-term disability due to TBI’s. We have to do a better job preventing these devastating problems.