Yes, a car crash can cause a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in many ways. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motor vehicle accidents were a top cause of TBI-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations in the United States in 2013.
TBIs from car accidents can occur when there is direct trauma, such as striking your head on something, from a penetrating injury, or from whiplash or other indirect injuries. They can vary in severity from very mild concussions to severe brain injuries that leave victims with lasting impairments that require around-the-clock care.
How a Car Crash Causes a Brain Injury
Car accidents can cause brain injuries in several ways, and even when injuries are similar, the prognosis can differ depending on the individual. Some common ways car crashes cause brain injuries include:
Bangs, Bumps, and Penetrating Injuries
During a car accident, there are a vast number of things an occupant of the vehicle could hit their head on. Direct head injuries could occur from striking your head on:
- The steering wheel
- The window or sidepost
- The windshield
- The roof during a rollover
Airbags deploy at extreme speeds, fast enough to cause injuries on their own in some cases. This is one reason safety experts recommend that children and teens always ride in the back seat.
Indirect “Coup and Contrecoup” Injuries
Indirect injuries occur when the vehicle occupant does not hit their head on anything but suffers a brain injury because of the forces of the crash (e.g., g-forces and sudden deceleration).
Coup injuries occur when the car suddenly stops in a collision. The body, strapped in the car, stops moving suddenly. However, the brain does not stop along with the rest of the body. It keeps moving and strikes the skull. In a contrecoup injury, the brain then rebounds and hits the other side of the skull.
Coup-contrecoup injuries can cause impairments with emotional control, attention and behavior, and visual processing.
Car accidents can involve extreme forces, putting occupants through movements that far exceed their expected range of motion.
Whiplash is often considered a neck injury, but its most severe forms can cause serious damage to the brain. The brain and nervous system require nerve cells and nerve fibers to function properly.
Whipping injuries can damage these fibers and cells, causing a diffuse axonal injury (DIA). A DIA can affect large areas of the brain and may lead to serious impairments.
Secondary Traumatic Brain Injuries
In addition to injuries sustained during a car accident, known as primary brain injuries, some people suffer additional brain injuries in the days and weeks after an accident. Known as secondary traumatic brain injuries, this type of injury can also be serious.
In some cases what appears to be a relatively minor head injury can develop into a severe TBI because of secondary injuries. Swelling in the brain can lead to an increase in intracranial pressure, bleeding in the brain can create a dangerous situation, and other issues can lead to additional damage to the brain after the initial head injury.
Severity and Recovery from Crash-Related TBIs
In general, doctors diagnose the severity of a traumatic brain injury based on the length of the initial loss of consciousness, medical imaging, and other factors. There are three degrees of traumatic brain injuries:
- Mild: Did not lose consciousness or lost consciousness for only a few minutes
- Moderate: Lost consciousness for a few minutes to a few hours
- Severe: Lost consciousness for more than a few hours
The severity of the injury plays a role in predicting prognosis and long-term outcomes. Those with mild injuries may miss time away from work but can usually return within a few weeks or months. Some people who suffer moderate and severe TBIs will recover with rehabilitation and therapy, but recovery may take longer and be much more difficult.
Because each TBI is different, there is no way to predict precisely how an individual will do based on the outcome of others. No two people will have the same recovery process or reach the same abilities, despite having similar injuries.
Talk to an Attorney About Your Car Crash TBI
If you or a loved one suffered a TBI in a car crash, you are eligible for a free case evaluation. For more than 20 years, Pintas & Mullins has been helping the victims of car accidents and TBIs pursue compensation. We can help you go after compensation for your medical care, lost wages, ongoing care costs, and more. To learn more about your rights, reach out to us today: 1-866-611-BASC.