Any traumatic brain injury (TBI) can significantly affect your quality of life in the short or long term, but some parts of the human brain are more vulnerable to permanent damage than others. Brain stem injuries are thankfully quite rare, but when sustained, damage to the brain stem can lead to serious disruptions to core body functions, potentially impairing the patient’s ability to talk, breathe unassisted, or move freely.
What is the Brain Stem?
The brain stem is a collection of nerves that link your spinal cord to the brain, and is responsible for a range of vital body functions, such as breathing, balance, and regulating heart rhythm. Other functions controlled by the brain stem include swallowing, talking, controlling facial movements, and more; it’s easy to see why damage to the brain stem can result in significant impairments. Some brain stem injury victims do recover, while others will require full-time care and sadly never fully recover.
Common Causes of Brain Stem Injuries
There are a variety of circumstances that can lead to a brain stem injury. Due to its positioning and size, it is less common to suffer serious damage to the stem during an accident than other parts of the brain. Nevertheless, it can and does occur, and the effects can be significant.
Common causes include:
- Road accidents (car, truck, motorcycle, etc.)
- Pedestrian accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Slips and falls
- Workplace accidents
- Sports and other recreational accidents
- Construction and work-site accidents
- Acts of intentional violence
- Oxygen deprivation from near-drowning
In addition to direct damage, swelling in the neck and brain resulting from other injuries can eventually cause damage to the brain stem itself; this is one of the reasons it is vital to seek treatment after a head injury of any kind.
Brain Stem Injury Symptoms
Our brain stems play a vital role in many body functions that are taken for granted and carried out automatically until an injury complicates the process. Victims of brain stem injuries may suffer issues related to:
- Respiratory conditions such as hyperventilation, hypoventilation, and sleep apnea
- Speaking and language challenges
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Muscle weakness/numbness
- Locked-in syndrome (total body paralysis with full cognitive function)
- Impaired vision
- Persistent headaches
- Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, insomnia
- Diminished motor function
Some of the more extreme conditions resulting from brain stem injury will require round-the-clock care, placing victims and their families under extreme financial strain. In less severe cases, rehabilitation and other medical costs can still be significant.
Brain Stem Injuries Caused by Negligence
When a brain stem injury is the result of a third party’s negligence, a personal injury lawsuit can be taken against them to seek compensation and recover the costs involved in treatment and other losses, both economic and non-economic. Economic damages are related to tangible financial costs, such as the cost of mobility aids, while non-economic damages cover losses related to independence and emotional damage.
Examples of damages commonly claimed for in brain stem injury lawsuits include:
- Medical expenses: Surgery, medications, hospital stays, therapy and rehabilitation, home aides and modifications, etc.
- Work-related losses: Lost wages (or career), missed opportunities for promotion, reduced earning capacity, etc.
- Permanent disability: Lasting disability affecting ability to earn a living
- Pain and suffering: Loss of ability to enjoy life, PTSD and other mental health issues, etc.
- Wrongful death: Funeral and burial expenses, non-economic-related damages
Liability and legal options
The first thing an attorney will do is determine where the legal liability for your injury lies. Considerations include:
- Who was responsible for providing you with a duty of care at the time the accident occurred?
- Did this person/party violate this duty of care? How?
- How did this negligence result in you sustaining your injuries?
Sometimes, multiple parties may be held legally liable for the accident. For example, a driver who falls asleep at the wheel may cause an accident, and while their actions make them liable, if their employer has required them to work more hours than legally permitted, they may share liability.
When it comes to handling claims, you have the right to negotiate directly with the responsible parties and/or their insurance providers. However, in a time of such great stress, the last thing you and your family will likely want to cope with is handling a legal claims process.
Expert personal injury attorneys are there to manage the legal complexities on your behalf while you and your family focus on your recovery and care. In addition, their expertise is highly likely to result in greater compensation amounts being awarded to you, as they have the skills and experience to ensure that your damage claims are optimally communicated and managed.
Workplace Brain Injuries
Some industries, such as construction or first responder fields, present higher risks of suffering injuries through falls and slips in the work environment. White-collar workers can and do suffer work-related head injuries, but it is less likely to occur.
If you or a loved one have sustained a brain stem injury while at work, you should be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits via the employer’s insurance policy. Severe injuries that prevent the sufferer from living independently or working in the long term can also result in eligibility for more extensive benefits. It’s vital to consult with an attorney to establish the extent of the help available and to ensure that you receive the full extent of funds you are eligible for.
If you or a loved one are suffering the impacts of a brain stem injury, it’s vital that you consult with an attorney who can assist you in recovering financially. Sadly, the reality is that insurance companies employ a range of tactics in an attempt to diminish settlements, and you need an expert in your corner to protect your interests. Your and your family’s only concern should be to focus on your recovery process as you adapt to the inevitable changes; leave the legal complexities to the experts who can deliver the maximum damage payouts possible.