A brain injury of any kind can have severe consequences, not just for the victim but for their entire family.
Brain injury can be a life-altering event affecting many diverse areas of a person’s life. Often, the person who has suffered a brain injury is unaware of just how severely they have been affected. Victims of brain injury can have a tendency to overestimate their abilities or underestimate the problems they face.
Family and friends can help recovery and it’s frequently the relatives of those who have suffered a brain injury who ask for our help and legal assistance. They are the ones who see what’s happening to their loved one, even if victims themselves are oblivious to the changes in personality or behaviour they display.
While many people know that brain injury can cause physical problems such as headaches, dizziness, impaired memory and problems with balance and walking, what’s often unseen, except by those family members and friends, are the personality changes that come when the brain has been injured.
Previously even tempered individuals become quick to anger or withdrawn. When US snowboarding champion Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 2009 in a snowboarding accident, colleagues and friends described him as a ‘different person’ to the one they had known.
The human brain and its connective networks very intricate, so while there is no single hub for emotion and no neurological sector for happiness or pleasure, the frontal lobes (the areas of the brain most easily damaged in accidents like head-on collisions or ‘whiplash’ type road traffic accidents) are responsible for the ‘executive functioning’ of an individual – from planning and organising to putting a needed filter on impulsive behaviour.
For some brain-injury victims all emotional control is lost. It’s possible to work on new coping skills to try to control post-injury temper tantrums, which more often than not are a consequence of frustration rather than aggression.
What is true is that huge changes and adjustments to lifestyle will need to be made by both the injured person and their family. Factors such as age and the severity and location of a brain injury can affect, but do not entirely predict, the outcome of any recovery. Some people with significant brain injuries experience only mild long-term difficulties, while others with similar injuries need lifelong, special care.
Equally true is the fact that evidence of personality change may only become gradually apparent and only to those who know the victim well. It may take several months, sometimes years, before more subtle and long lasting changes in personality become established. Some Injuries to particular parts of the brain are easy to spot since they display different visible signs which indicate underlying damage to brain function.
An injury to the side of the brain (parietal lobes) results in weakness in the limbs on the opposite side of the body. An injury to the left side of the brain or the brain stem tends to cause speech and language impairment. However, traumatic brain injury can also cause numerous 'hidden impairments’ that may not emerge immediately and usually lead to changes in personality, thinking and memory.
Rose Donoghue, a partner and head of our national personal injury team at Shoosmiths, with a particular interest in brain injury, says:
‘That’s why it is important to use specialist lawyers if you are seeking legal advice after an accident in which you suffered an injury to head in particular. Given that the early signs of brain injury may not be apparent and can be overshadowed by the seemly minor immediate physical injuries such as whiplash, commonly dealt with by firms that deal in high volume and quickly processed litigation, there is a risk the more serious and long term problems of a brain injury can be missed.’
Pushing things through as speedily as possible can have more damaging consequences than merely undervaluing claims. If that approach had been taken with a client of Shoosmiths called Nicola Cooper, the result would have been catastrophic. Rose adds:
‘In the case of Nicola Cooper, the changes in personality caused by brain injury were not immediately evident and only began to present themselves some time after the accident occurred. Had our inclination been to conclude a simple whiplash claim, it would have been impossible to make another claim for the more serious injury arising from the same accident.'
The consequence of that would have been that Nicola and her family were left with no support or funding whatsoever to help them cope with her traumatic brain injury and the affect it has had on her memory and personality.
Expertise and knowledge is required in this highly specialist area of personal injury law but equally important is a commitment to put the client at the centre of things. Treating each person as a unique individual in unique circumstances means you cannot be driven by volume, turnover or the need to process things quickly and cheaply.
You can find more information in our handy infographic guide to the causes, effects and clinical implications of a traumatic brain injury.