Head Injuries: New Settlement In NFL Concussion Lawsuit

helmet smallYou may recall that the previous settlement agreement between the National Football League and a class of former players was scrapped by the judge, who was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough funds to fully compensate the injured players who sustained head injuries.

Yesterday, the parties entered into a new settlement agreement.  Unlike the last settlement, this settlement isn’t capped at any specific amount.  This ensures that any former player who develops a qualifying neurocognitive condition will be compensated for the injury.

This is an interesting way forward.  Obviously, we represent a number of clients who have sustained head injuries, so I know the ways that these types of injuries can affect someone.  But I’ve also done some work on class actions, and it’s highly unusual to craft a settlement that doesn’t have a cap on the damages.  It will be interesting to see how the case proceeds and whether the ultimate amount paid out will surpass the $765 million that was being set aside in the prior agreement.

The Vulnerably Housed and Homeless Suffer Increased Risk of TBI

Typically, traumatic brain injury (TBI) coverage focuses on those involved in contact sports and on military veterans. However, TBI also seriously affects vulnerably housed individuals and the homeless.

The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation recently featured a study arguing that the homeless who suffer TBI have a strong, negative impact on public expenses. Homeless and unsafely housed individuals who have suffered damaging blows to the head are more likely to frequent ER departments for health care, to fall victim to assaults, to have done jail time and to have been arrested.

The Canadian article argued that traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, are approximately seven times more common among the homeless. TBIs may manifest themselves in mental health issues, in alcohol or drug abuse and in physical symptoms, including seizures.

The study stretched over four years, and 61 percent of its participants reported having sustained a TBI in survey. The figures were roughly consistent across Canada. Homeless individuals with a history of TBI were 1.5 times more likely to attend an ER due to the long-term side effects of their brain injury.

These individuals were also almost twice as likely to have spent time in jail or to have been arrested by police within the previous year — usually as a result of personality disturbances or impaired mental abilities as a result of a TBI. The homeless with brain injuries were almost three times more likely to be assaulted than other, similarly situated individuals.

Increased screening and condition-management assistance could help control the higher level of health care required for homeless TBI victims. Unfortunately, prospects for this kind of action remain weak in the face of more dominant health care priorities.

Posted on: May 30, 2014 | Tagged

Brain Injuries: Invisible Injury

CBS Boston ran a story about one of the Boston Marathon survivors.  Titled “Marathon Bombing Survivor Struggles With ‘Invisible Injury’,” it describes what many of our brain injured clients have to deal with.  If you or a loved one has suffered from a concussion or other brain injury, it’s worth a watch:

 

Head Injuries, Concussions and ImPACT

The human brainI’ve had the pleasure of helping those who have suffered from head injuries for almost twenty years now.

But my perspective on these things changed about six weeks ago.  At that time, my son was playing baseball, fell and hit his head, and he sustained a concussion.

Naturally, because of my experience in head injury cases, I panicked and feared the worst.

Once we took him to the hospital and had him undergo a CT scan to rule out a hidden brain bleed, my fears were reduced.  At that time, he had some headaches, a little bit of dizziness when standing up, and a little bit of nausea.  I knew from my experience that, once the brain bleed was ruled out, he’d likely be fine with a little (or a lot) of rest and time as long as he didn’t sustain a second concussion before his brain healed (second-impact syndrome – problems caused when a person has a second concussion before being healed from an initial concussion – can be catastrophic).

But then, we were faced with the harder question, “How do we know when he’s better?  When is it okay to let him start participating in activities again?  He looks fine, he isn’t having symptoms, but how do we know his brain is actually healed?”

Going through his treatment, we learned about ImPACT testing.  ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) is a widely-used and scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system.  This test measures cognitive abilities and  cognitive processing of participants.  When people take the test after a concussion, it can help medical providers make a determination of when the injured brain is healed.

But the key is having a baseline —- knowing what your cognitive abilities and processing are BEFORE you sustain a concussion.  That way, doctors know whether you’re scoring as well as you did before you had the brain injury.

In our case, we didn’t know about the test before my son’s accident, and we didn’t have a baseline.  My son’s medical providers were able to take his test scores and compare them to averages, but they weren’t able to definitively tell us if his brain was able to think and process as well as it did before the concussion.

But that’s a problem.  And it’s why the NFL, MLB, NHL, NASCAR and many universities and school districts require their athletes to have a baseline ImPACT test and score before the athletes are allowed to participate in those sports.

Having gone through this, I think more parents need to know about it.  If you or your child participate in sports, dance, cheer or other athletic activities, I urge you to have your child take the baseline test sooner rather than later.  The baseline test is relatively inexpensive.  I know that the specialist who treated my son offer the pre-concussion testing for $20.  This testing cane be done online, at home.  This is a small price to pay to help protect your kids.

If you want to learn more or find someone in your area who can administer a baseline test,  visit the ImPACT website at  www.impacttest.com.

Serious Personal Injury May Happen While Texting And Walking

No doubt you have seen the video of the woman texting and falling into a fountain at a shopping mall. While the video was funny and no one was serioiusly hurt, the ramifications for texting and walking have the potential to be fatal.

It used to be that everyone got to where they were going by just walking there. If they had anything to say to the person when they arrived, that was when the conversation took place. Cell phones had not yet been invented, and no one seemed to miss being out of touch with others. It was just the way life was back then. Now, with the advent of cell phones that do just about everything, staying in touch is not only easy, it may also kill.

Many people do not see the harm in texting while walking. After all, they are safe on the sidewalk, mall or wherever they happen to be headed. But, are they? Consider the case of the young teen who was texting her boyfriend about their planned date, when she walked out between two parked cars, right into the path of an 18-wheeler. The cell phone survived the impact. The young girl did not. Was her life worth texting dangerously?

What about the case of the young man who was walking down the stairs at work and texting his buddy about their weekend plans? Because he was not paying attention to where he was walking, he missed the last two steps, fell hard and hit his head on a cement floor. His cell phone survived the impact. He sustained traumatic brain injury. Was his forever altered life worth texting dangerously?

If you do not think texting and walking is a big deal, because maybe, nothing has ever happened to you, consider the emergency room statistics across the U.S. that show over 1,000 pedestrians have needed emergency medical care because of texting and walking accidents. Each year, the numbers go up, not down. While texting and walking is not a smart thing to do, texting and driving is markedly worse, as you can kill someone else by negligently not paying attention to the road. Be smart and above all, be safe.

Brooks Schuelke is an Austin personal injury attorney with Perlmutter & Schuelke LLP. Contact an Austin injury lawyer at Civtrial.com or (512) 476-4944.

New research shows linkages between PTSD, dementia and Alzheimer’s

If recent research proves to be accurate, there is a connection between traumatic brain injury (TBI), dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In most cases, dementia is typically linked to a degenerative brain disease. That presumption may be about to be challenged by a U.S. psychiatrist who has discovered a connection between dementia, TBI and PTSD. All signs point to war veterans having twice the normal chances of developing dementia, largely due to their exposure to head pounding sound waves from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The latest research is pointing to serious brain injury as being the link to an increased risk of dementia and, by extrapolation, hastening the onset of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is usually associated with the build-up of tau protein in the brain. Speculation has it that brain injuries are also precursors to tau build-up, or that the TBI is a precipitating factor in opening the door for Alzheimer’s. This observation would then be applicable to those who play contact sports and suffer a large number of serious concussions.

The group, led by Dr. Kristine Yaffe, was the first to prove that there is a connection between PTSD and a risk of developing dementia. However, they are not the only group to have come to the same conclusion.

While researchers are not certain about the precise mechanism of the detected linkages, they believe that chronic stress, such as that experienced in a battle zone, or changes within the brain, are the potential precursors to dementia/Alzheimer’s. This raises an interesting question. If PTSD were to be successfully treated, would that lower the risk of dementia?

This isn’t a question that can be answered any time soon, and most of the men and women who have TBI and/or PTSD would need to be cognitively monitored as they age. Are there solutions for coping with these diseases? Currently, while there is some progress in treating vets and sports victims with brain injuries, not much can help mitigate the ongoing battle they face every day to regain what was once a normal life.

While research is ongoing and funding is in place to address these issues, only time will weigh in with answers. Recently, there was a $60 million project, funded by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD), to track down the links between neurological degeneration and TBI. It’s a can of worms that once opened may lead to some form of assistance for those who have sustained head injuries that have robbed them of the ability to be, think and act they way they used to.

What is the connection between TBI and the law? In the sports arena, if players are not adequately informed of the risks of playing, even with a good helmet, and are repeatedly sent on to the playing field despite having sustained a concussion, and they develop dementia, the negligence of the coach and team owners come under scrutiny. Should their case win in court, they may be awarded compensation for their injuries.

ADHD adversely affects driver’s reactions

Many know that texting while driving affects a driver’s reaction time. Few think about how attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects drivers.

People are generally aware of the developmental disorder ADHD. They know it can make some individuals restless or hyperactive and typically includes a short attention span. In many situations, this can run from just aggravating to downright frustrating. However, when it comes to driving, the short attention span is a potential danger, since the driver is not able stay focused on driving.

Medications for those with ADHD are a blessing and may control symptoms, but perhaps not enough to ensure an ADHD driver can handle the normal distractions of driving. In fact, a recent study has revealed that with the usual distractions that come with driving, ADHD drivers demonstrated a higher degree of variable speeds and changed lanes more often than those without this condition.

The study utilized 61 adolescents between the ages of 16 and 17. Thirty-three of the participants did not have ADHD. There were three tests used to determine distraction levels: test one had zero distractions in place; test two involved having a chat on a cell phone; and test three required participants to text and drive. The findings of the study showed ADHD adolescents fared worse in their efforts to maintain a steady lane position and speed.

On the same note, those with traumatic brain injury may face a similar problem when it comes to driving as well. There is more going on, on the road, than we might think. Even if we take to heart the “Drive Safe” admonition many are sent off with when we go somewhere, we can never know what other drivers are contending with as they drive.

If you have been involved in an accident with a distracted driver, contact an experienced injury attorney for information on obtaining possible compensation for injuries you may have.

Posted on: October 28, 2013 | Tagged

Brett Favre’s Admissions Shed Light On Traumatic Brain Injuries

In an interview this week, retired NFL quarterback (and all around tough guy) Brett Favre discussed memory loss issues he’s been having since retirement.  Favre attributes these issues to potential brain injuries he suffered as a player.

Favre isn’t alone in these types of symptoms.  We’ve had the pleasure of representing a number of clients who have suffered from brain injuries.  Sadly, memory loss is a popular symptom.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the concussion issues arising in the NFL and in the military are terrible.  But they may be the best thing to happen to traumatic brain injury patients.  These stories have put a light on the issues of concussions and brain injuries, and they’re also sparking research that might help my clients and others as they seek to return to normal lives.

Checking a player for concussion may not be enough

A 30-year-old football player died as a result of complications associated with degenerative brain disease.

When the nation first became aware of the issues surrounding traumatic brain injury, it was noted that is seemed to be confined to older players who had seen their fair share of bone crunching scrimmages during their career.

Then, younger players began taking their lives and a whole new can of worms opened up —- traumatic brain injury did not just affect older players, it seemed. It stalked everyone who played a contact sport, regardless of age or sex.

Recently, a 30-year-old former quarterback went missing in the woods while on a fishing trip. He was found dead, with no signs that suggested he took his own life. He had been drinking and was found lying in his own vomit. His official cause of death was pneumonia due to inhaling his body fluids.

However, the pathologist also found that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was a contributing cause in the former player’s death. Due to the CTE, the young man was disoriented and suffering from paranoia. The amount of alcohol found in his body was rated as negligible.

In examining the deceased’s playing history, it was discovered that during his career on the field, he had only suffered one concussion. Despite sustaining a recognizable concussion, which coaching staff felt was mild, he was put back in the game and only told to come out at halftime. Further reports showed he was also vetted by a bevy of doctors who cleared him to play in further games.

The lesson is that even “mild” concussions have the capacity to seriously affect a player. When the young man was put back into game play, with a concussion, and cleared to play more games, his fate was sealed. It is time the name of the game is safety for the player and not winning at all costs – a cost that includes the destruction of a person’s normal life due to brain injury and/or their subsequent death.

For those who participate in contact sports, you need to know that if you are not thoroughly briefed on the risks of playing and sustaining traumatic brain injury (TBI), and there was negligence present, such as being put back into the game without being pulled out immediately, you have a right to sue for compensation.

Posted on: October 15, 2013 | Tagged

Two Massachusetts hospitals may co-opt TBI patients into a study without their permission

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients in Massachusetts may end up participating in a study without giving their permission.

While the question of informed consent is a huge one when being admitted to hospital and having procedures, tests and diagnostics run, being enrolled in a medical study without consent may cross a legal line. If negligence is involved, being co-opted into a medical study could spell serious issues for the hospitals.

Boston Medical Center and the Massachusetts General Hospital have launched tests to see if giving traumatic brain injury patients progesterone as soon as possible after a head injury limits brain damage. Evidently, there are current studies that show the hormone may slow the secondary cascade of injuries that come on the heels of the initial trauma. The trial was approved by review boards at both facilities.

According to federal law, researchers in this study must obtain an okay for the patient or patient surrogate prior to giving an experimental drug. This particular trial is one of the first that relies on a 1996 exemption to study emergency treatments. Legally speaking, if something went wrong during the course of the study involving a patient that had not provided an informed consent, the exemption could face successful challenges in a lawsuit.

This study is not solely taking place in Boston. There are over 40 other hospitals in the nation also focusing on whether or not progesterone helps limit brain trauma if administered early. Researchers attempt to get consent from a victim if they are able to communicate their wishes or if their family consents. The reality is that TBI patients often come in needing immediate treatment and medical personnel cannot wait for the family to be found and may not be able to talk to the victim. This means that in an emergency, the drug would be given and an option offered to opt out of the trial later.

The fact that the researchers have provided a phone line for those wishing to opt out of the study is encouraging and a step in the right direction to address anyone’s concerns about being given an experimental drug. Again, the reality of an emergency situation may mean the drug is given anyway.

The main question in situations like this becomes whether or not the patient, or their family, would object to the possibility of a life enhancing treatment, even if it were experimental. Many may feel that any chance at all is preferable to going without treatment and facing the life altering consequences of TBI. This is not to say that treated TBI may not still change someone’s lifestyle, but the progesterone may reduce the severity of the changes.

If you find yourself in a situation like this and have objections to being given drugs without your consent, it is wise to seek the counsel of an experienced Austin personal injury lawyer. This is groundbreaking medicine that may save lives, but there are still those who would prefer not to be test subjects without knowing how a drug or procedure may affect them.

Posted on: September 18, 2013 | Tagged

Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP maintains offices in Austin, Texas. However, our attorneys and lawyers represent clients throughout the state of Texas, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Forth Worth, El Paso, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Round Rock, Georgetown, Lockhart, Bastrop, Elgin, Manor, Brenham, Cedar Park, Burnet, Marble Falls, Temple and Killeen. By Brooks Schuelke

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