Brain injuries resulting from a car crash or some other type of accident are among the most often misunderstood of all the injuries we deal with. A common fact pattern looks something like this: A driver is struck on the passenger side by a car that has run the red light. Air bags deploy. There is severe damage to the passenger side of the vehicle. Driver reports feeling "woozy" and "confused" at the accident scene. He cannot remember specific details of what happened there. He’s taken to an emergency room and given a CAT scan of the brain, which is read as negative. He’s released to go home. He has no specific recollection of being struck on his head and the ER records show no treatment for a wound to his head. Once home, he’s "with it" again, meaning he’s no longer woozy or confused.
Soon thereafter, Driver’s wife notices a change in behavior. He’s become argumentative. He’s "testy," quick to anger, irritable, all traits unlike his usual self. Since the CAT scan was negative and he doesn’t appear to have been hit on the head, he doesn’t connect these changes to the car crash. He blames work or some other source of stress. But there is no improvement. Weeks, sometimes months go by before he decides he’d better see a doctor. At the doctor’s office, he doesn’t even mention the car crash. The reasons for that 1) he’s been told the CAT scan was normal, and 2) He did not receive a direct blow to the head, and 3) The "out of it" feeling he experienced for a few minutes right after the accident has gone away. Unfortunately for him, this Driver is falling victim to the same myths that many people believe about brain injuries:
Myth No. 1: You cannot have a brain injury unless you’ve been struck very hard on the head.
Concussion is defined by the Center for Disease Control as a striking or severe shaking of the head, and any type of concussion is a brain injury. A direct blow is but one way it can happen. The rapid whipping of your head back and forth or side to side that is commonly experienced in a car crash is another.
Myth No. 2: The temporary confusion experienced at the scene lasted but a few minutes, so it’s not significant.
EMTs and trained physicians look specifically for what they term "altered mental status" at the scene. That’s because they know it is a classic sign of brain trauma. It is a common fact pattern for the driver to no longer be confused when he gets home. The point is the confusion was present soon after the crash. That it was short lived does not negate its significance. There may be serious long term damage even if that initial confusion was only temporary.
Myth No. 3: The negative CAT scan taken a short time after the crash rules out any possibility of brain damage.
The brain is soft tissue and can be battered around inside your very hard skull quite violently, with or without a direct blow to your head. Crash victims are often at the emergency room within one hour. The damage to brain cells and blood vessels can take place on a microscopic level and might not have produced enough bleeding and swelling to be noticed by most CAT Scans taken close in time to the accident. In addition, there are varying levels of sensitivity in CAT Scans and many hospitals do not have the latest, most sensitive machines. Therefore, a negative CAT Scan does not rule out a brain injury.
The facts I’ve set out herein have been recognized as true in the medical community for many years. Yet, if you’re in a car crash and are told weeks or months later that you’ve suffered a brain injury, you can count on the insurance company to throw every one of these myths at you in an effort to deny your claim. Which is why you need experienced counsel on your side.