Why Concussions are Tough to Represent, and Rowan’s Law
Named after 17-year-old Rowan Stringer who lost her life due to a series of sports concussions, the push behind Rowan’s Law is bringing attention to a difficult issue in schools, sports organizations and the legal field.
The reason this issue is relevant to a personal injury lawyer is because concussions are, quite frankly, harder to represent. Having said that, I’ve (successfully) represented my share; unfortunately there is no lack of these cases.
This tells me two things: 1. we need to be more aware of head injuries so we see less of them overall, and 2. we need greater awareness about what concussions really are: Serious head injuries.
In the summer of 2015, an inquest jury made 49 recommendations to reduce concussions and TBIs among young people. The most poignant ones included zero tolerance for head hits in sports, developing ways to track concussions amongst players and ensuring there’s enough time between games and practices for players to recover. Most importantly, it included mandatory education for coaches and parents.
When I apply this thinking to the world of personal injury law, what does it mean?
It’s a tough thing. When my client sues their insurance company, unless it is obvious i.e. a quadriplegic, the insurance company automatically works to minimize the compensation.
They try to poke holes wherever they can: Incomplete medical records, inconclusive medical test results, inconsistencies in client testimony during discovery, changes in a client’s condition over time, etc.
But if the individuals working for the insurance company themselves had a better sense of how serious (and ubiquitous) a concussion can be, would things change?
I think it would.
Look, I know what you’re thinking: I’ve presented the insurance company as the big bad wolf here, but that’s not my intent.
I used to be one of those lawyers and here is the real motivation: The insurance company’s job is to pay clients that have been injured exactly what they need to recover/move on with their lives. No more, no less.
Fraud happens. In order to pay a client what they need, the insurance company must ensure that the client is being honest and accurate in terms of how the injury has impacted them, as well as their recovery plan. If these can be proven with little doubt, they will settle fairly.
But with a concussion, all bets are off only because they are so hard to prove and awareness is spotty.
Why Head Injuries Are So Complicated
Insurance companies look to documents and science to validate – or invalidate – a claim. The trouble with a head injury, especially a concussion, is that they don’t always show up on CT scans or MRIs. They can be subtle, but no less debilitating, especially over time.
Also, concussions are progressive as we saw in Rowan’s case. The first one or two may not be so traumatic but the third or fourth can be fatal. And just to be specific, we are not talking about big hits here. In truth, it doesn’t take much to sustain a concussion or a TBI. The brain is like jelly inside your head and can easily bruise and swell if knocked about.
I always think of Mohammed Ali or the many NHL and NFL athletes who currently deal with the ramifications of multiple head injuries.
What Can You Do If You’re Dealing with a Concussion?
It’s best to be thorough.
I recommend that my clients see their doctor regularly and disclose any and all changes or difficulties they’re experiencing.
On one hand, this is common sense; if you’ve experienced an injury, you shouldn’t need your lawyer to tell you to see a doctor! But it’s also important because you are creating a paper file that outlines your symptoms and can tell your story over time.
Next, make sure that your family doctor is directing you to the right specialists.
Many family doctors will send patients to a neurologist. Patients who are suffering from depression or anxiety may also be sent to a psychologist who can take a closer look and know whether or not to attribute physiological issues to the physical brain injury.
In really tough situations, a patient may see a neuropsychologist who will perform a battery of psychometric testing to detect issues.
Always take your doctor’s advice and attend your appointments. It’s best for your health and it will help us to build your case.
Next, insurance companies will also look at the initial ambulance report. For example, was there a loss of consciousness? These details can help convince the insurance company that the claim is real.
What Happens When The Tests Come Back Clean?
This is when insurance companies will ask to speak to your community to ascertain (based on multiple third party statements) how much you’ve changed.
Finally, do not expect a quick conclusion. When the details, test results and obvious symptoms are not present, the only other thing we have in our arsenal is time.
Often with concussions and other types of TBIs, it takes time to really understand the impact the injury has had on the client’s life and ability to function. You only have one shot to get the compensation you need so it’s best to walk slowly and carefully.
If you’ve suffered a concussion and have questions about your options, feel free to reach out.