December 28, 2018
The Hidden Disability: Concussions and Acquired Brain Injuries
In 2016, 50-year-old Andrew Harper* was playing hockey with his son’s team at a year-end party when his life changed forever. One minute he was skating; the next minute he was on his back. A tall man at six foot nine, he lost his balance and fell backwards, striking his head. Although he was wearing a helmet, he felt woozy afterwards, and the next day was at the emergency room having a CT scan to rule out brain bleeding. Diagnosed with a concussion, he was told to spend a week on bed rest, no screens, no reading, and surrounded by dim lights.
He went back to his highly stressful job, and over the next two years suffered from post-concussion syndrome, finally leaving his work in early 2018 and going on long-term disability. To all who know him, he seems fine. He can carry on a conversation, take his athletic kids to games and tournaments, entertain friends and family, but every minute is a challenge. Constant headaches, twitchiness, irritability, photosensitivity, and exhaustion mark his days. He has twice tried to return to work, only to find any progress in his recovery unravelled by the daily stress of his job.
The Prevalence and Complexity of Brain Injuries
Mr. Harper isn’t alone. According to Brain Injury Canada, 1.5 million Canadians live with the effects of an acquired brain injury (ABI) — both traumatic and non-traumatic — and they state that the annual incidence of ABI is greater than that of Multiple Sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, HIV/AIDS, and breast cancer combined. They also call it a national health crisis, and getting the help and support needed can be an uphill battle for many sufferers.
Unlike many other injuries, especially those sustained in a motor vehicle accident, or slip and fall accident (such as broken bones or lacerations), a judge and jury can’t see a brain injury. Although the list of symptoms for ABIs is extensive, many of them rely on subjective reporting, such as:
- Decreased energy and endurance
- Problems with fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping (e.g. lack of sleep, confusing days and nights)
- Changes in hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting
- Light and sound sensitivity, ringing in ears, dizziness, light-headed feeling
- Chronic pain, including headaches
- Increased sensitivity to caffeine, alcohol and other drugs
- Poor concentration, easily distracted, unable to stay on topic
- Memory problems
- Slowed thinking; slower to respond
- Difficulty with reasoning, reaching logical conclusions and judgement
- Difficulty dealing with change
- Lack of awareness, insight into problems and/or lack of acceptance
- Lack of flexibility in thinking i.e. rigid thinking
- Irritability or easily frustrated
- More sensitive to stress
- Hard to “keep up” in social situations
- May be inappropriate – emotionally, behaviourally, sexually
- Self-centeredness; childish behaviour
- Personality changes (e.g. no longer outgoing or social)
- Changes and difficulties with relationships, especially family members
- May be impulsive
Decreased or inability to do the following:
- Self-care tasks
- Household management tasks
- Work or return to work
- Be involved in a previous social and/or hobby activities
This isn’t the exhaustive list, but they are symptoms of ABIs and each one of them relies on self-reporting or the subjective assessment of family members or caregivers. New technologies and the use of MRIs can help people build a case for compensation — especially if their injury is the result of a motor vehicle accident or slip and fall where another party is liable. However, proving damages is complicated with head injuries, and that is why having a personal injury lawyer with expertise in dealing with these cases is extremely valuable.
How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
Brain injuries are hidden. A jury and judge has never met the victim, so an individual’s claims of personality changes, energy decline, mood disruption, etc. is nearly impossible to prove. A lawyer trained to understand injuries such as these will be able to gather evidence such as medical records, statements from co-workers, friends, and family, and can present a before and after picture of their client and the effect that the ABI has had on their quality of life.
Outside of the court, if a victim of a head injury is unable to prove that the injury and subsequent impairment is related to the incident, an insurance company and its lawyers will be less inclined to pay a claim, making it difficult for the victim to receive treatment and be compensated for living expenses while recovering.
In Mr. Harper’s case, although his fall wasn’t due to a motor vehicle accident or through anyone else’s negligence, he still had to navigate filing for long term disability. Many insurance companies make you jump through multiple hoops, even when the injury is clearcut and obvious. Harper had to prove that his head injury was debilitating, and was required to compile multiple records from specialists and filling out many forms. Again,
* Not his real name.
this is where a personal injury lawyer who understands the system can make things easier and let you get back to the job of healing.
The Good News
Scientific research (such as that supported by the Ontario Neurotrauma Institute) into the head injuries — both traumatic and non-traumatic — is expanding at an unprecedented pace. Research continues to explore the effects of brain injury and how people respond, making them more diagnosable and therefore more provable in court and to insurance companies. This is good news for the estimated 50,000 new brain injury cases reported annually in Canada.
The other good news is that new treatments are curbing recovery time, thus costing insurance companies less and ultimately costing the patient less, both in terms of money and suffering.
A personal injury lawyer understands how to navigate the system and prove the legitimacy of a brain injury claim. If you’ve been hurt and need compensation, contact a lawyer for help.
If you or a loved one has sustained a head injury and need help understanding your rights and how to access compensation, contact Michelle Linka Law. We provide personal injury lawyers in Vaughan, Whitby, Newmarket and other locations in the Greater Toronto Area. We are a small firm dedicated to getting to know each of our clients personally and providing equal time and attention. We are dedicated to fighting for your rights and getting you compensation. Contact us at (416) 477-7288 for a free consultation.
1 Brain Injury Canada website: https://www.braininjurycanada.ca
2 From the Ontario Brain Injury Association: http://obia.ca/brain-injury-information/