Articles Posted in Traumatic Brain Injury

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The Illinois General Assembly ended its official 2013 legislative session last Friday. As usual in the chamber, the elected body left many issues to the very end. Some of the items on the docket related to different proposals affecting the civil justice system–even those which may implant those who suffer a traumatic brain injury as a result of negligence.

New Legislation

For example, SB1912 was contested last week. The bill–first introduced in the Senate in mid-February–dealt with procedural rules for settlements in civil law cases. Specifically, the measure requires a “release” to be given to defendants in a case within 14 days of an agreement being reached between the parties in a civil lawsuit. Once that happens a 21 day timeline begins, and the defendant has those three weeks to pay the full settlement amount.

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MedPage published an interesting interview this week with a researcher who is working on new methods to help those who have suffered a brain injury. While a bit “wonky,” the story is worthwhile, because it explains the current state of the research as well as a few areas where experts are exploring in order to make new advances.

The doctor explains that current treatment methods involve use of both “devices” and therapies. The devices are a range of tools to keep the patient alive and to prevent further complications. They include things like intracranial pressure monitors, ventilators, and more. The professional explains that the “therapy is directed towards reducing intracranial pressure that comes from brain swelling, and prevention of secondary brain injury that can occur in the setting of hypoxemia, hypotension, fever, seizures, etc.”

New Frontiers

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The most serious brain injuries–often related to car accidents–sometimesthrow those affected into a “vegetative state.” As most know from high-profile cases, this condition signifies a virtual inability to interact with the outside world. Those in a vegetative state are essentially stagnant, unable to move voluntarily, communicate, or otherwise engage with those around them. It refers to an unconcious mind. This is often a permanent condition, leading families to make very difficult quality of life and long-term care choices.

However, a new case discussed by BBC News is raising many eyebrowns, as it stems from a patient in a vegetative state who was apparently able to communicate with doctors who were using an fMRI machines to measure the patient’s brain when asked questions. An examination of the brain apparently allowed the doctors to identify the patient’s response.

Communicating Through Brain Waves?

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Traumatic brain injuries can happen to anyone at any time. Automobile accidents are likely the riskiest activity for TBIs that most community members engage in each day. But there are a limitless number of ways that one might suffer severe contact to the head which causes a brain injury.

The Huffington Post reported this week, for example, on a TODAY show segment featuring the former Mrs. Idaho discussing her near-deadly TBI suffered after a fall during a fishing trip.

TBI Accident

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Is there a risk of brain injury when playing games like football? No question. Have players in Chicago and throughout Illinois been permanently disabled (and even killed) as a result of collisions on the field? Yes. Is everything possible being done to keep players safe? That’s still up for debate.

The connection between football playing and brain injuries is well-known. But what truly matters from a legal perspective is the work that is done (or not done) to prevent those injuries. Not all injuries lead to legal liability, but many do. That is because quite often these brain injuries are predicated in whole or in part on unreasonable behavior by those in a position to prevent the harm. That premise is at root in the high-profile NFL brain injury cases, where hundreds of former players claim they suffered serious consequences as a result of their playing days. The suit claims that the NFL hid information about those risks and otherwise did not do enough to keep those players as healthy as possible.

The NFL finally made news in a good way last week, after the league donated $30 million to the National Institute of Health. The donation will be used to help research efforts into head injuries in all athletes.

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Brain injury lawsuits filed against the National Football league have attracted much recent attention. As blog readers know, thousands of former professional football players have filed suit against the league for various problems related to this issue. The crux of the suits is that the NFL knew about serious head injury risks from the game and failed to properly explain (or even hid) this information from players. As a result, the suits claim, these players suffered serious head injuries that will have implications for the rest of their lives–well beyond their playing years.

Our Chicago brain injury attorneys know that many are arguing that the suits against the NFL are just the tip of the iceberg, as many other athletic organizations institutions, and leagues may face similar legal fights by those harmed by the games. For example, a story from SportsLoop argued that college football will likely be the next bastion of brain injury lawsuits. The main reason for the possible litigation are the countless former players who are suffering now from the issues they were unaware of, or misled about, in their playing days.

In one way, the possible success of the NFL litigation may set the precedent for others to file similar claims. As one former college football played remarked recently, “It’s a beautiful that the NFL Alumni Association are lobbying as hard as they are. There needs to be something at the college level for all of us who blew out our knees, blew out our shoulders, in addition to concussions. There needs to be help for us.”

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Earlier this year the professional sports community was shocked to learn of the passing of former NFL linebacker Junior Seau. The San Diego Chargers star died in May, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Our Chicago brain injury lawyers know that very soon after his passing many questions started being asked about a possible cause for the suicide; brain damage caused by his playing days was commonly mentioned.

Seau’s death marked the third suicide by a former NFL football player in the past few months alone. For example, well-known former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson similarly died following a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. He had previously complained of memory loss, blurred vision, and headaches. These incidents and similar examples have led more than 2,000 former players to file suit against the NFL alleging that they deliberately concealed information about the risk of brain damage from hard hits on the field.

We have often discussed the myriad of issues related to brain injuries in football players. Medical evidence has mounted in recent years showing serious brain issues in athletes who take repeated hits to the head. The risk is highest in those who play the game longests (like college and professional players) and in games with built-in head contact–like football, hockey, and soccer.

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Our Illinois brain injury attorneys realize that brain injury research often has two ultimate goals-prevent the occurrence of the injury in the first place and provide actual cures for those who do suffer harm. When it comes to traumatic brain injury, prevention usually seems a more productive goal. That is because we know exactly what causes the harm, at least at the outset-severe head trauma. Prevent that head trauma-in car accidents, falls, and sporting events-and the injuries will not occur. From creating better football helmets to passing seatbelt laws, researchers and policymakers are working on those prevention measures in many ways.

But that doesn’t mean that experts have stopped exploring ways to help those who already have suffered a brain injury. In fact, a lot of attention recently has been paid toward helping those who have already suffer the trauma. It is no easy task. The mysteries of the brain remain baffling in many respects and our wisest minds are only just beginning to learn more about how the brain works and how it can be manipulated.

Some progress has been made, however.

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Yesterday we explored the sports injury lawsuit that was filed by 300 former NFL players against the league. We noted that football is perhaps the sport where traumatic brain injuries are most likely to develop because of the game’s focus on contact. However, there actually may be another sport that is even more ripe for serious head injuries to develop: boxing. The overall number of athletes participating in boxing in far smaller than those playing football, which is likely why it gets less attention from those interested in preventing brain injuries. But boxing is entirely about contact to the head of the opponent, and so the risk of long-term head injuries is sky-high.

As our Chicago brain injury lawyers have previously pointed out, many physicians have explained that boxing of any kind is unhealthy for children and adolescents. Now, according to a new Daily Mail article, doctors are taking their warning to professional boxers. The story explains how research continues to come in showing that boxers who do not use padded helmets risk traumatic brain injury each and every time that they enter the ring. An analysis of the helmets that are used suggest that even then, the protection they offer is usually too minimal to prevent all brain injuries.

Noting that the sport will likely not simply go away because of some injury risks, safety experts are working on ways to improve the current headgear. Apparently, the main problem is that current headgear protects mostly against “linear” impacts. Linear impacts are those that occur from a punch that is coming straight. This is distinguished from “rotational” impacts which cause the head to spin around. As one expert noted, “There is ample medical literature that points to rotational impacts as being key contributors to head and neck injuries.”

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Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is likely the nation’s most famous traumatic brain injury victim. The tragic attack that caused her injury as well as her public recovery has led many Americans to truly see the impact of these injuries first-hand. Of course our Chicago brain injury lawyers know that this publicity is incredibly helpful as a way to focus attention on a problem that plagues hundreds of thousands of community members every year. Just last week the First Lady announced a large new initiative which seeks to provide increasing resources to medical professionals who are working both to prevent and treat traumatic brain injuries. If these trends continue hopefully very important advances can be made to actually help improve the lives of victims.

Yet, with all the publicity surrounding Congresswoman Giffords’s situation, many observers might get the wrong impression about the resources available to other brain injury victims-those without the platform, publicity, or resources of Giffords. The sad truth is that many (most) victims of traumatic brain injury have nowhere near the quality of care provided to the Congresswoman. In the aftermath of the tragedy the very best brain injury care was provided to Giffords. Then, in the weeks and months after the event, the top of the line full spectrum of treatment, rehabilitation, and therapies have been provided which have allowed her to make what seems to be a miraculous recovery. She still faces many challenges, particularly when it comes to communication, but it is unmistakable that she has made progress that no one would have thought possible from someone who received a gunshot to the head only a year earlier.

Now Congresswoman Giffords is taking her experience to the public policy arena by championing proper brain injury treatments for all those in similar situations. She fully understands that most community members do not have nearly he access that she does to prolonged, quality treatment and therapy. Instead, as so many local families have explained to our brain injury lawyers, insurance companies usually only cover the bare minimum of stabilization care. Few families are able to secure permanent therapy which, as Congresswoman Giffords case shows, is absolutely essential to allowing an injured brain to recover as much as possible.