A crucial tool in brain injury cases
The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is an essential tool in assessing brain injuries, with scores ranging from 3 to 15 indicating the severity of impairment. It is not only vital for immediate medical intervention but also significantly impacts personal injury legal cases.
Imagine you're at your child's soccer game, cheering as they chase the ball down the field. The sun is shining, the crowd is roaring, and then—in a split-second—everything changes. Your child collides with an opposing player, and their head violently strikes the ground. The game stops; the cheering ceases. Panic sets in.
You find yourself beside a hospital bed, medical professionals surrounding your child, trying to assess the damage to your child’s brain.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are more common than we'd like to think, affecting approximately 2.8 million people in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the primary tools used to evaluate such injuries is the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS).
But what exactly is the GCS? How does it work, and why is it so important both medically and legally?
What is the Glasgow Coma Scale?
The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is a neurological scale that measures the conscious state of a person following a brain injury.
The GCS measures three criteria:
- Eye response
- Verbal response
- Motor response
The total score can range from 3 to 15, with lower scores indicating more severe impairment. More specifically, a score of 15 means you’re fully awake, responsive, and have no problems with thinking ability or memory. Generally speaking, a score of 8 or less means you’re in a coma. The lower the score, the deeper the coma.
|Mild traumatic brain injury
|Severe traumatic brain injury
Importance in medical diagnosis
Medical providers calculate your GCS by taking the scores from each of the three categories and adding them together. Here are the potential scores in each category:
|Eye response (1-4 points)
|You can open your eyes and keep them open on your own.
|You only open your eyes when someone tells you to do so. Your eyes stay closed otherwise.
|Your eyes only open in response to feeling pressure.
|Your eyes don’t open for any reason.
|Verbal response score (1-5)
|You’re oriented. You can correctly answer questions about who you are, where you’re at, the day or year, etc.
|You’re confused. You can answer questions, but your answers show you’re not fully aware of what’s happening.
|You can talk and others can understand words you say, but your responses to questions don’t make sense.
|You can’t talk and can only make sounds or noises.
|You can't speak or make sounds.
|Motor response score (1-6)
|You follow instructions on how and when to move.
|You intentionally move away from something that presses on you.
|You only move away from something pressing on you as a reflex.
|You flex muscles (pull inward) in response to pressure.
|You extend muscles (stretch outward) in response to pressure.
|You don’t move in response to pressure.
In the immediate aftermath of a brain injury, healthcare professionals use the GCS to gauge the severity of the injury. This aids in decision-making regarding necessary medical interventions.
Medical providers may also use the GCS to track changes in someone’s level of consciousness. Medical providers will often repeat a neurological exam at regular intervals to check for and document any changes in a patient’s GCS score.
Legal implications of the Glasgow Coma Scale
The GCS not only plays a crucial role in medical treatment, but it also plays a crucial role in personal injury cases.
Personal injury attorneys often refer to GCS scores to demonstrate the severity of a client’s injuries in two contexts:
- Determining damages: A low GCS score may be used as evidence to seek higher compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, and other damages.
- Proving negligence: The GCS may also be instrumental in proving negligence on the part of the defendant.
Three boys were severely injured in a 2014 crash caused by a Florida state trooper. The boys' mother received $18 million as compensation after years of legal battles.
One of the boys was diagnosed with a Glasgow Coma Scale of 7, denoting a severe traumatic brain injury with a high overall mortality rate.
Dr. Paul Kornberg, a Tampa-based pediatric medicine and rehabilitation specialist, said the damage done to the child’s motor, perceptual, communicative, cognitive and behavioral functions are permanent and will prevent him from achieving gainful employment.
The case underscores the importance of a specific GCS score in obtaining a fair settlement.
When to consult with a personal injury attorney
If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury, understanding the GCS is just the beginning. A personal injury can help calculate the value of your claim and obtain the compensation you deserve.
Still have questions about your brain injury? These resources may help:
- Guide to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Resources to Help After a Brain Injury
- How to Recognize a Brain Injury and What You Should Do About It
- Concussions and Auto Accidents
- Rehabilitation and Therapy After a Brain Injury
- Second Impact Syndrome and Sports Injury Lawsuits
- Legal Guide to Brain Death
- What is CTE?
- A Loss of Oxygen Can Lead to an Anoxic Brain Injury
- Can You Recover Costs for the Accident that Caused a Brain Bleed?
- What is the Traumatic Brain Injury Act?
- Understanding the Hidden Challenges of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury