Michigan Lawyer Blog

What Is the Most Common Complication of a Head Injury After an Accident?


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Accidents are frightening and upsetting events, especially when you end up injured. If that injury involves your head, it can change how you think, feel, and live in the world — sometimes forever.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI)  is the most common complication of a head injury after an accident. A traumatic brain injury is mild to severe damage that affects the brain's functions. TBIs have multiple complications of their own, including:

  • Seizures

  • Nerve damage

  • Changes in mood or behavior

  • Difficulty thinking, learning, and remembering

Approximately 500 out of every 100,000 people sustain a traumatic brain injury every year. You may qualify for compensation if you've experienced a head injury following a car crash.

Our lawyers are waiting at (248) 286-8100 to answer your questions. Meanwhile, let's look at what is the most common complication of a head injury after an accident.

Types of Head Injuries after Accidents

Because the brain is such a complicated organ, every brain injury is different. No two people with head injuries have identical symptoms, though they may share experiences and challenges.

Part of what distinguishes one brain injury from another is the type of damage, such as:

  • Concussion: A jostling of the brain following a blow to the head or body (the most common type of TBI)

  • Brain contusion: A brain tissue bruise that causes swelling and bleeding in the brain

  • Skull fracture: A break that can release shards of bone into the brain

  • Intracranial hemorrhage: Severe bleeding in the brain, potentially causing life-threatening complications such as stroke or seizure.

The type of damage can affect what complications a person experiences. For example, injuries caused by rapid acceleration and deceleration of the head — such as those sustained in a car accident — are likely to have widespread injuries to the nerve fibers (axons).

Compared to other types of brain injuries, axonal damage is more likely to cause sustained unconsciousness and permanent disability.

What Complications are Common with Head Injuries?

When people discuss head injury complications, the conversation usually turns to traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI is technically a type of head injury with its own complications, though someone may receive a TBI diagnosis after recovering from the initial fallout of a head injury.

TBI can happen following a blow to the head or a full-body injury that causes sudden head movement. That sudden movement causes the brain to twist or bounce inside the skull, leading to physical or chemical damage.

For example, when you're in a car crash, your body often lurches forward or sideways as the vehicle stops suddenly. Your neck keeps moving through its range of motion. All that momentum keeps the brain moving, even as the head finally snaps to a stop. The jostling damages the brain tissue.

The resulting damage may be "mild" to severe. Clinicians use the term "mild" to describe a non-life-threatening brain injury, but even a mild TBI can have extremely disruptive symptoms.

Short-Term Complications

The short-term complications of head injury are easy to miss, especially if the damage is less severe. It's important for patients and their families and caregivers to watch for any changes in how the person thinks, feels, and behaves.

Common experiences among sufferers of "mild" TBI include:

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Memory problems

  • Headaches

  • Seizures

  • Dizziness or balance issues

  • Changes in sensory perception (hearing, vision, smell, etc.)

  • Behavioral changes, especially poor social judgment and inappropriate interpersonal behaviors.

Even mild head injuries can lead to life-threatening complications if not properly treated. This often happens due to uncontrolled bleeding or clots in the brain. Signs of these events include:

  • Sudden and worsening headache

  • Persistent vomiting

  • Slurred speech

  • Confusion or agitation

  • Seizures

  • Loss of consciousness.

If someone with these symptoms doesn't receive immediate medical attention, the injury could prove fatal or lead to long-term disability.

Long-Term Effects

Some head injuries cause long-term or permanent damage to the brain tissue, leading to:

  • Sensory disturbances such as double vision or ringing in the ears

  • Psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Substance misuse and/or addiction

  • Increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and other degenerative brain conditions.

Older people have a higher risk of cognitive impairment and permanent disability than their younger counterparts.

A head injury also has the potential to permanently or persistently alter a person's state of consciousness. The most common complications of this type are:

  • Minimally conscious state: Limited signs of self-awareness or awareness of the environment

  • Vegetative state: Loss of consciousness and awareness with occasional bursts of movement, vocalization, or reflexes

  • Coma: Unconscious and unresponsiveness for days to weeks, after which the patient may awaken, slip into a vegetative state, or die

  • Brain death: Lack of measurable brain activity.

A person with a consciousness disorder requires round-the-clock care including:

  • Nutrition through a feeding tube

  • Manual movement in the bed to prevent pressure sores

  • Changing and cleaning a catheter and/or diapers

  • Maintaining the airway and, if relevant, a breathing tube.

Recovery becomes less likely if the vegetative state persists for longer than 12 months following the trauma. These individuals need lifelong care, often at great expense.

Who is Liable for an Accident-Induced Traumatic Brain Injury?

If you suffer a head injury in an accident that someone else caused, we believe you deserve compensation. The first step is determining who is at fault and which laws apply. Different situations have different liability laws.

Medical Error

For example, if your injury or complications stem from medical malpractice, you have to prove that the healthcare professional who treated you was negligent. 

The line between negligence and understandable human error can be a difficult one to find, especially when it comes to medicine. For example, suppose you suffer a traumatic brain injury but your medical team missed the signs. Our job is to determine whether they upheld the expected standard of care or acted carelessly.

Car Accidents

Car accidents are the second most common accidental cause of death from traumatic brain injury. Those who survive can end up with long-term or permanent disabilities, sometimes severe enough to require long-term care.

Our team practices law in Michigan, which is a no-fault car accident state. In Michigan, an injured person can only sue the individual who caused the accident if the injured person:

  • Is not more than 50% at fault

  • Has experienced serious functional impairment, permanent serious disfigurement, or death.

"Serious" impairment or disfigurement must affect the injured person's ability to live as they had before the accident.  Our personal injury lawyers will work with you to determine if you have a case and, if so, what compensation you may be able to obtain.

Wrongful Death

Death from a head injury can devastate a family. Our job is to find out if someone failed in their duty to save your loved one’s life. If so, we may be able to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit and secure justice for your family.

What to Do When Your Head Is Injured in a Car Accident or Other Accident

If you experience a head injury after an accident, seeking medical attention is important.

Brain Injury Evaluation

A comprehensive assessment is important to diagnose or rule out TBI. The initial evaluation may involve:

  • A standardized evaluation such as the Acute Concussion Evaluation (ACE), which assesses symptoms and points the clinician to the appropriate follow-up care

  • A computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to check for physical damage such as bleeding, bruising, or swelling

  • Neurological testing to evaluate memory, concentration, executive functioning, and other cognitive tasks

  • Assessment of impaired consciousness, including evaluation of the person’s ability to open their eyes and respond to verbal prompts.

Your medical team should recommend all appropriate and relevant tests to gauge your symptoms, functioning, and recovery needs. if your physician misses any important tests or misinterprets the results, the error can affect your outcome and you may be due compensation.

Care and Rehabilitation Following a Head Injury

If you've suffered a mild TBI, your recovery plan will most likely involve "brain rest," including modified activity levels. Your team should also guide you to look out for any new symptoms, such as mood swings or irritability.

You may also receive prescriptions to help you deal with your symptoms. Common prescriptions after a TBI include anticoagulants to prevent blood clots, diuretics to reduce fluid buildup, and antidepressants to treat mood disturbances.

If your head injury is severe, hospitalization and/or surgery may be necessary. Many severe TBIs require lengthy periods of rehabilitation, sometimes for the rest of a patient's life.

Your care team has the responsibility to provide quality appropriate care for your head injury. If an act of medical negligence causes your prognosis to worsen, you may be able to get compensation.

Seeking Legal Action for a Head Injury

Compensation may be available if you or someone you love has suffered a head injury. At Goodman Acker, we have recovered millions in damages for clients with a variety of personal injury matters including medical malpractice, car accident liability, and wrongful death.

Call us any time at (248) 286-8100 to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation. We'll review your case and help you determine your next steps.

Head injuries are devastating. Let us fight for your rights and obtain the compensation you need to recover.