How to Win a Brain Injury Lawsuit
Insight into the process of bringing a brain injury lawsuitBy Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on January 11, 2023
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- Brain Injury Symptoms and Statutes of Limitations
- Preparing for Success in a Brain Injury Case
- What You Can Recover in a Lawsuit
- Questions for an Attorney
Thousands of people suffer traumatic brain injuries (TBI) every year. TBIs can result from many everyday incidents, including sporting accidents, auto accidents, and slip and falls.
“The brain controls a lot of different functions of your body,” says Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer Jason M. Lichtenstein, so the impacts of a TBI are potentially severe and wide-ranging. TBIs can cause permanent cognitive impairment, memory loss, and other disabilities in addition to expensive medical bills, lost wages, and loss of enjoyment in life.
If someone is responsible for causing the brain injury, it’s possible to bring a personal injury lawsuit against them in order to recover money damages for injuries and expenses.
This article will explain what generally must be proven in a brain injury case and when it’s a good idea to get an experienced personal injury attorney to take your case.
Liability in a Brain Injury Lawsuit
Traumatic brain injuries are generally classified from mild TBIs such as concussions to severe TBIs that often involve objects penetrating the skull. Many TBIs require immediate medical care and may have short and long-term health impacts.
If you pursue a lawsuit against someone for causing a brain injury, there are several elements to prove.
Many brain injury cases involve a negligence claim, meaning that someone acted negligently and caused the brain injury. To win a negligence claim, four elements must be proven:
- Duty. In everyday life, people owe each other what’s generally called a duty of reasonable care. People are expected to act with an appropriate level of caution when going about daily activities, such as driving a car or using a machine like a lawn mower. What’s considered “reasonable” varies from one context to another. For example, there are different expectations about safety and care in the construction industry or medical profession than in everyday life. People in specialized industries are expected to act the way a professional in that industry would act, and to be familiar with guidelines and rules.
- Breach. A breach occurs when someone fails to exercise a reasonable level of care in their actions. For example, a worker operated a machine recklessly or didn’t follow established safety procedures.
- Causation. Causation means that the person’s breach of duty is what caused your injuries. There are two types of causation. The first is called “actual causation.” This simply means the person’s actions (as opposed to some other factor) are what caused your injuries. The second is called “proximate cause.” This means the injuries you suffered were a foreseeable result of negligent action. For example, getting a severe headache is a foreseeable result of a head injury, whereas getting a toenail infection is not.
- Damages. The last thing you must prove in a negligence case is you were harmed by the person’s negligent actions. For example, you must show, as a result of the person’s breach of duty, you suffered brain injuries that resulted in medical expenses, lost wages, or other economic harms. In other words, your damages are what you are seeking compensation for in a lawsuit.
Most medical malpractice claims are a type of negligence brought against doctors or medical professionals.
The four negligence factors analyzed above—duty, breach, causation, and damages—apply straightforwardly in medical malpractice cases. These types of negligence are unique to the medical context:
- Negligently prescribing medication or the use of medical devices
- Negligently failing to get informed consent
- Failing to exercise reasonable care during surgery or another medical operation
If a doctor’s negligent actions resulted in brain injury or some other injury, speak with a lawyer about suing the doctor for malpractice.
If your brain injury occurred while working for your employer, you may be able to bring a workers’ compensation claim for lost wages, lost earning potential, or any medical expenses.
It’s important to note that workers’ compensation claims function as an alternative to a lawsuit. An injured worker will accept workers comp instead of pursuing a lawsuit against their employer.
It’s worth speaking with a lawyer if you or a family member has suffered a brain injury on the job to figure out if a workers’ comp claim or other legal action is the best strategy for getting a settlement.
Brain Injury Symptoms and Statutes of Limitations
What if you only notice the negative effects of a brain injury years after it occurred? Can you still take legal action even though a lot of time has passed?
This answer depends on two things:
- Exactly how much time has passed since the incident
- Your state’s statute of limitations and discovery rule
A statute of limitations is simply a law that says how long people have to bring a lawsuit after an incident occurs. Timeframes vary from state to state and can be as little as a year or as many as several years.
In addition to how long the statute of limitations is, states also differ on when the clock starts ticking.
Infant Brain Injuries
For infants who are involved in accidents, the statute of limitations doesn’t start until their eighteenth birthday in Pennsylvania, says Lichtenstein. The statute of limitations for infant brain injuries will vary depending on where you live.
Regardless of the timeframe, “if you have a child involved in an accident who may have sustained a brain injury, you should not be settling that case until you’re absolutely sure that you have qualified opinions saying the child has not sustained any developmental damage,” he says.
Adult Brain Injuries
For adults, brain injury “symptoms usually begin right away,” says Lichtenstein.
However, “sometimes people hit their head and sustain an injury but don’t think it’s a problem or do anything about it, and it gets worse.”
For example, this can happen in “cases where an initial trauma causes a slow-acting brain bleed and the plaintiff has no idea until the pressure from the blood causes some new symptom, which can be weeks after the initial accident,” he says.
“It’s imperative to get medical attention as soon as possible to rule out things such as a brain bleed, which if left undetected can become a very serious issue for life,” says Lichtenstein.
To avoid missing deadlines in bringing a lawsuit, it’s essential to talk with a lawyer about your state’s statute of limitations and how long you have to file a lawsuit from the time of your brain injury.
Preparing for Success in a Brain Injury Case
If you plan to bring a lawsuit, it’s important to compile evidence showing the cause of the brain injury and its effects on you. Helpful evidence includes:
- Medical records
- Testimony from medical experts
- Witness testimony
“From a legal perspective, it’s very helpful for [plaintiffs] to see medical professionals as soon as possible after an accident” to determine whether the accident caused their injuries, says Lichtenstein.
Establishing the connection between an accident and injuries is essential. A common way defense lawyers argue against brain injury claims is by saying: “[the plaintiff] didn’t complain about their injuries until a week after the accident, and we think these complaints are unrelated” to the accident. Defense lawyers may then conclude that their client “was not negligent,” he says.
To prove brain injury claims, the plaintiff’s lawyer “works with the plaintiff’s treating physician to delineate exactly how the trauma from the accident exacerbated an underlying condition or caused a new condition,” says Lichtenstein.
“If I have a client with a history of depression at the time of the accident, I’m going to make sure that the client’s doctor believes and is comfortable saying the head injury exacerbated the underlying baseline conditions that pre-existed the accident,” he says. “Otherwise, the jury will hear private, personal information about the plaintiff’s emotional background, which may be detrimental to the claim.”
A personal injury lawyer with experience in brain injury lawsuits will be able to help compile the evidence and have medical experts testify on your behalf.
What You Can Recover in a Lawsuit
When it comes to brain injury settlements, damages can include:
- Medical bills
- Earning capacity
- Lost wages
- Attorneys’ fees
- Punitive damages
It’s a good idea to speak with a lawyer before accepting any settlement offer from an insurance company.
Often, insurance adjusters who evaluate brain injury claims will push for a settlement value below what you can get through further negotiation. An experienced attorney can ensure you get the best possible settlement.
Insurance companies might say to a consumer who has no knowledge or experience: “Hey, you were involved in an auto accident and sustained X, Y, and Z injuries—I’m going to give you X amount to settle your case,” says Lichtenstein.
“To most people that amount might sound like a huge sum of money,” he says. However, “once a seasoned personal injury attorney who works with the plaintiff’s doctors handles the case, and realizes there may be ongoing effects, that value is a pittance for what most lawyers get for the case.”
“A good plaintiff’s lawyer will not only maximize financial recovery—they will ensure that the injured plaintiff gets the proper medical attention and care,” says Lichtenstein. An experienced lawyer will also “take into account how the [brain injury] will impact the person’s ability to make a living in the future [and] how much future follow-up medical care will be needed.”
Questions for an Attorney
If you or a loved one has experienced a brain injury, it’s important to get legal advice from a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An experienced brain injury attorney can help navigate you through the legal process and ensure you get a fair settlement.
Many attorneys give free consultations to prospective clients. These meetings are an excellent resource for both attorney and client because it allows the attorney to hear the facts of the case while the client can determine if the attorney and law firm meets their needs.
The best way to decide whether an attorney is the right fit is by asking informed questions. Here are some good questions to ask during your initial conversations:
- What are your attorneys’ fees?
- What is the statute of limitations for bringing a traumatic brain injury case?
- What kind of lawsuit should I bring?
- What are the chances of a brain injury settlement in my case?
Once you speak with a lawyer, you can decide whether to hire them and begin an attorney-client relationship.
Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs
It is essential to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can give you legal help through your entire case. You can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.
For brain injuries, look for a personal injury lawyer with experience in brain injury cases.
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