Can you recover damages following a head or brain injury?
Your head contains your major sensory organs, the most important of which is your brain. Minor bumps and bruises generally heal on their own, but more serious injuries may require life-long care.
If you sustained a head injury at work or as a result of someone else’s negligent or intentional act, you may be able to recover damages.
Let’s take a look at head injuries and head injury legal claims in Tennessee.
What is a head injury?
The term “head injury” is broadly used to describe a host of injuries that occur to the scalp, skull, brain, and underlying tissue and blood vessels in the head.
Common examples of head injuries
Some of the most common head injuries include:
- Concussions. A concussion is an injury to the head that may cause instant loss of awareness for a few minutes or several hours.
- Skull fractures. A skull fracture is a break in the skull bone. There are different types of skull fractures depending on where the break occurs.
- Intracranial hematomas. An intracranial hematoma occurs when blood clots develop in or around the brain. There are several types of intracranial hematomas depending on their location in the brain. These can range from mild to life-threatening.
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The term “traumatic brain injury” or “TBI” is used to describe any injury that causes a disruption in the normal functioning of the brain.
Head injuries commonly result from:
Traumatic brain injury statistics
Though statistics are not well kept for certain brain injuries, several health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Tennessee Department of Health, maintain TBI statistics.
Traumatic brain injury statistics
Here are some alarming statistics from the Tennessee Department of Health:
- Roughly 3 million new TBIs occur each year in the United States
- Every year approximately 25,000 Tennesseans sustain a TBI
- Roughly 5 out of every 10 concussions (a mild form of TBI) go unreported or undetected
- Males are twice as likely as females to suffer a TBI
- The 3 leading causes of TBI in Tennessee are falls, car accidents, and violent attacks
How do you know if you suffered a serious brain injury?
It’s not always clear whether you suffered a serious brain injury. The symptoms can be subtle and may not appear right away.
|Degree of injury||Physical symptoms||Sensory symptoms||Cognitive symptoms|
|Mild head injury||Loss of consciousness for a few seconds to a few minutes, state of being dazed, confused or disoriented, headache, nausea or vomiting, fatigue or drowsiness, problems with speech, difficulty sleeping, sleeping more than usual, dizziness or loss of balance||Blurred vision, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, changes in the ability to smell, sensitivity to light or sound||Memory or concentration problems, mood changes or mood swings, feeling depressed or anxious|
|Moderate to serious head injury||Loss of consciousness from several minutes to hours, persistent headache or headache that worsens, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, clear fluids draining from the nose or ears, inability to awaken from sleep, weakness or numbness in fingers and toes, loss of coordination||Blurred vision, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, changes in the ability to smell, sensitivity to light or sound||Profound confusion, agitation, slurred speech, coma and other disorders of consciousness|
Source: The Mayo Clinic
Because children can’t always describe their symptoms, it can be particularly difficult to tell if your child has suffered a serious head injury. Here are some things to look for:
- Changes in eating or nursing habits
- Unusual irritability
- Persistent crying and inability to be consoled
- Changes in their ability to pay attention (loss of focus)
- Changes in sleep habits
- Sad or depressed mood
- Loss of interest in favorite toys or activities
Can you recover damages for a head injury?
There are 3 scenarios in which you’re likely to recover damages for a head injury:
- Your head injury occurred at work
- Your head injury was the result of someone else’s negligence
- Your head injury was the result of someone else’s intentional act
Let’s take a look at all 3 possibilities:
Head injuries that occur at work
Common causes of work-related head injuries include:
- Falls on slippery, crowded, or unstable surfaces
- Fall from unsafely positioned ladders
- Being hit by a moving object
- Bumping against a fixed object
- Vehicle crashes
Fortunately, workers’ compensation provides financial benefits to employees who are injured on the job. In Tennessee, every employer with 5 or more employees (or at least 1 employee in the construction industry) is required by law to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
Workers’ compensation covers head injuries so long as the head injury wasn’t self-inflicted and it occurred when the employee was performing a work task.
Head injuries caused by negligence
If your head injury was caused by another person’s carelessness, you may be able to recover damages by filing a personal injury lawsuit based on negligence.
In Tennessee, you must prove 3 elements to successfully establish a negligence claim:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care,
- The defendant breached the duty of care (in most cases this means the defendant failed to act as a reasonable person would have acted under the circumstances), and
- Your injury was caused by the defendant’s breach.
On August 15, 2019, a Union County High School student was tackled during football practice and sustained a concussion. The student complained of headaches and the complaints were brought to the attention of the football coach. The football coach failed to notify healthcare professionals and instead ordered the student to continue practicing.
Shortly thereafter, the student suffered a permanent head injury.
A lawsuit was filed against the Union County High School on August 14, 2020, demanding $6 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages.
Head injuries caused by an intentional act
Intentional torts arise when someone harms another person on purpose. The most common intentional tort that may result in a head injury is a battery.
Just like negligence, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against a defendant to recover damages for an intentional tort.
What damages can be recovered after a head injury in Tennessee?
The plaintiff in a head injury case in Tennessee can recover both economic and non-economic damages:
Economic damages include:
- Medical expenses. Tennessee allows plaintiffs to recover past medical expenses (the medical expenses incurred at the time the lawsuit was filed) and future medical expenses (the medical expenses related to the accident that the plaintiff reasonably expects to incur over the course of their life).
- Lost income. Lost income includes the income the plaintiff missed out on (or will miss out on) because they were recovering from the accident.
- Property damage. The plaintiff is entitled to recover the costs associated with fixing or replacing any property damaged in the accident.
Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering. Physical pain is subjective and difficult to prove. As a result, insurance companies, judges, and juries have to rely on a number of factors when attempting to determine the value of pain and suffering. These factors include the type of injury, the type of medication prescribed, the length of recovery, and the permanence of the injury.
- Emotional distress. Accidents don’t just cause physical pain, they almost always take some sort of emotional toll. Plaintiffs can recover damages for this emotional toll.
Tennessee head injury resources
Head injuries can result in dramatic changes in personality and behavior. On top of these changes, head injury victims may be dealing with medical appointments and legal proceedings. Having proper support during the recovery process is critical.
Here are some organizations that can help:
- The Tennessee Department of Health TBI Family Support Program is funded by the state and provides services to those with TBI, including respite care, daycare, home modifications, equipment supplies, personal assistance, transportation, homemaker services, housing costs, health-related needs, nursing and counseling.
- The Brain Injury Association of Tennessee provides injury prevention, education, and advocacy to brain injury survivors and their families.
- Epic Yoga in Brentwood has partnered with the Love Your Brain Foundation to help those with TBI through yoga, meditation, and community discussion.
- The Family Caregiver Alliance is a national organization that provides services to family caregivers of adults with physical and cognitive impairments.