One of the scariest things about a car wreck is the possibility of a permanent injury, and few injuries are as potentially life-altering as brain injuries. Car accidents are among the leading causes of concussions in Texas and nationwide, so you have to be prepared for the possibility if you're involved in a wreck. Here's what you need to know.
How do car accidents cause brain injuries?
Most brain injuries sustained in car accidents are the result of blunt force trauma. When a car comes to a sudden stop in a crash, the bodies of the people inside keep moving until they hit something. You may hit your head on a window, windshield, steering wheel, seat, door, dashboard or any other part of the vehicle. The force of impact is transferred through the skull to the brain, causing bruising that can leave permanent damage.
A common misconception, though, is that you can only get a concussion if you hit your head. In fact, if the head just jerks back and forth violently without actually hitting anything, that can be enough to cause a brain injury. This often happens in rear-end accidents that cause whiplash. The technical term for this is a "coup-contrecoup" brain injury—think of the brain rattling back and forth inside the skull as the head moves, and you get the idea.
The other, typically more severe, type of brain injury that can happen in a car wreck is called a penetrating head injury; that is, an external object actually pierces the skull and directly damages the brain. This sometimes happens in truck accidents when a smaller vehicle gets stuck underneath the trailer and portions of the trailer enter the cab, or in head-on collisions that happen at high enough speeds to drive metal objects through the skull.
What should I do if I think I might have a concussion?
First, check for concussion symptoms immediately after any wreck. One telltale sign of a concussion is if the pupils don't dilate normally. A quick way to check this is to sit in a dark room for a few minutes, then turn on the lights and look in a mirror or have someone else look at your eyes. Your pupils should go from large to small with a sudden increase in light. If they don't, you may have a concussion.
Other potential warning signs of a traumatic brain injury include:
- Loss of memory
- Difficulty reading or concentrating
- Slurred or unclear speech
- Loss of balance, coordination or reaction time
- Behavioral or emotional changes
Even if you don't have any noticeable symptoms, though, you still need to see a doctor right away. Sometimes, concussion symptoms aren't immediately obvious, especially if you're filled with adrenaline after the wreck. Getting checked out by a medical provider is the best option for your health. It also creates a record of your brain injury in case the insurance company later disputes it.
How an attorney can help if you have a head or brain injury
There is no such thing as a minor brain injury. Any damage to the brain can have real implications on your ability to work or do the things you love. You may need years of treatment or physical therapy. When car accidents cause brain injuries, the insurance company is supposed to pay for those things, but they're experts at negotiating down claims and even denying them entirely. You need your own advocate on your side.