Concussion Sustained in Car Accidents and Slip and Falls

In my experience, oftentimes concussions go unnoticed in a car accident. That is because individuals cannot remember hitting their head and/or did not lose consciousness. These two things are common tactics used by the insurance companies and their doctors to say that there is no way a car accident victim could have sustained a concussion.

First, we need to start with how a concussion can occur. A concussion is caused by a jar, blow, or impact that causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull. This can be to the body or head.  Think of shaking an egg. The shell is the skull, the egg white is brain fluid, and the yolk is the brain. Shaking that egg will cause that yolk to move around quite a bit. The same can be applied to a concussion. A concussion is thought to be the result of the brain hitting against the hard walls of your skull. The CDC has an informative illustration showing what happens to the brain when a concussion is sustained here. Even if the brain does not come in contact with the skull, a concussion can still be caused by a rapid acceleration-deceleration event. A good example of this is a whiplash-type injury to the neck that causes the brain to move rapidly.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders describes a concussion as a type of traumatic brain injury that may be considered a temporary injury to the brain that could take minutes to several months to heal. Now think about that for a moment. If someone told you that you sustained a concussion, you might not take it too seriously. But, when you are told that you have sustained a traumatic brain injury, it seems to take on a whole new meaning. However, they are one and the same and regardless of what you call, need to be taken seriously. Also to note, is that a second concussion closely following the first one causes further damage to the brain — the so-called “second hit” phenomenon — and can lead to permanent damage or even death in some instances.

It was not too long ago that concussions were taken lightly. We have all heard announcers in sports talk about how a player got their bell rung. That same player would be put back in on the very next play only to be hit again. Concussions only seem to have become serious when the NFL implemented policies and changes to increase player safety in 2012. This really seems to have been the catalyst to the widespread realization that concussions are serious and can serious consequences. The NFL now admits that approximately one-third of NFL players suffer from long-term brain damage from concussions. It is no wonder youth participation in contact sports is on the decline.

So how does all this pertain to a car accident or slip and fall? As you may be aware, car accidents usually involve a car striking something and coming to a stop or lower rate of speed quickly. Have you ever pulled too far into a parking ramp and bumped the wall going 1 mile per hour? The force you feel is jarring. Now imagine a vehicle traveling at 30 miles per hour coming to an abrupt stop after striking another car or object. Another example involves pedestrians. If a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle, they have the initial impact and also the risk of the impact with the ground. As discussed above, quick movements can cause the aforementioned acceleration-deceleration concussion which causes stretching of the brain tissue even if there is no contact with the skull. People often neglect a concussion because they do not have any bumps, bruises, or bleeding from their head.

When a concussion is sustained in a car accident or slip and fall, sometimes the symptoms will be instantaneous. However, other times, symptoms may not show until things have settled down after the car accident or slip and fall. Symptoms from a concussion can include confusion, headaches, vision disturbances (double or blurry vision), dizziness or imbalance, nausea or vomiting, memory loss, ringing ears, difficulty concentrating, sensitivity to light, loss of smell or taste, and or trouble falling asleep. The length and time of these symptoms can vary from person to person regardless of the severity of the impact. The fact that the severity of the impact may not make a difference from person to person, is the reason that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms following a car accident or slip and fall, it needs to be addressed.

If a person is experiencing these symptoms after a car accident or slip and fall, a person must seek medical attention immediately. Testing can be done; consultations can be made, and therapy can be ordered to lessen the symptoms and bring you to a speedier recovery. Two tests that are commonly ordered when there is a suspected brain injury are a brain cat scan (CT) and a Glasgow coma scale test.

The insurance company loves to point to the fact that because the CT does not show any findings, there is no way a traumatic brain injury was sustained in the car accident or slip and fall. A CT scan can only show structural damage to your brain, like bleeding, tumors, and fluid buildup. While concussions often involve microscopic changes at the cellular level without changing the brain structure in any way. Thus, undetectable on any scan available.

As for the Glasgow coma scale test (GCS), the insurance company also likes to use this against car accident and fall down victims to prove there has been no head injury. The GCS is the summation of scores for eye, verbal, and motor responses. The minimum score is a 3 which indicates a deep coma or a brain-dead state. The maximum is 15 which indicates a fully awake patient. In short, the GCS is used in evaluating consciousness, not concussion and/ or its severity. The long and short of it is, that although these two tests may indicate no brain injury, it does not necessarily mean you did not sustain one.

Again, if you are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms after a car accident or slip and fall, you must seek medical attention. Treatment can be helpful and speed up the recovery process. However, even with treatment, people may suffer from prolonged symptoms that could be permanent. This is known as post-concussive syndrome. Post-Concussion Syndrome, or PCS, is the persistence of concussion symptoms beyond the normal course of recovery. The majority of concussion symptoms will resolve within about two weeks. In cases where symptoms last longer than one or two months, doctors may diagnose Post-Concussion Syndrome. Patients with PCS can experience concussion-like symptoms at rest or in response to too much physical or cognitive activity, often forcing them to withdraw from their usual physical, professional, and social lives.

If you or a loved one have been involved in a car accident, fall-down assault, or any other type of accident, seek medical attention immediately. After you get a plan in place with your medical provider contact an attorney to discuss legal options. What may seem likely to go away, could have long-lasting effects on your life. Here at Perron Law Office, we have handled countless traumatic brain injury/concussion cases. Feel free to contact me at 651-705-9098 or email me at to discuss your case.

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