Michael V. Kaplen: In our legal practice we focus on representing individuals who have sustained traumatic brain injuries. We often are asked by other lawyers, “What is the definition of a concussion?”
Lawyers representing persons who have sustained a traumatic brain injury need to know that the terms concussion and mild traumatic brain injury are often used interchangeably by the medical and legal professions — and that:
The definition of what a concussion is has changed over time as medical science has gained more and more information on brain injuries and concussions.
Because there is no single accepted definition of the term, many difficulties have been caused and at times great injustices to victims of brain injury have taken place because of their attorney’s lack of knowledge of what the term concussion means.
The term concussion is derived from the Latin term, to shake violently and frequently nerve fibers in the brain are damaged by the rapid movement of the brain within the skull.
Essentially a concussion is the disruption of the normal functioning of the brain. The most current and modern definitions of the term concussion makes it clear that a person need not lose consciousness in order for it to be said that they sustained a concussion.
Modern definitions of concussion or mild traumatic brain injury also make it clear that most frequently, CT scans of the brain or MRI studies of the brain following a concussion are normal. A normal CT or MRI study does not mean that a concussion hasn’t taken place.
It is also clear that it may take hours, days or weeks for some, if not all of the symptoms associated with a concussion to develop. So here are some of the most current definitions of a concussion.
The American Academy of Neurology defines a concussion as a trauma induced alteration in mental status that may or may not include loss of consciousness.
The American College of Rehabilitation Medicine defines a concussion as any alteration in a person’s mental state at the time of the accident including feelings of being dazed, confused or disoriented.
The Center for Disease Control says that a mild traumatic brain injury or concussion is a complex process that takes place within the brain that is caused by either direct or indirect forced being applied to the head.
A mild traumatic brain injury according to the CDC is caused by a blow or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal functioning of the brain and typically involves some immediate symptoms such as confusion or disorientation.
What is clear from all of these definitions is that the hallmark of a concussion is the confusion, disorientation, the feeling of being off that an individual experiences immediately after being injured. Athletes call this getting their bell rung. Some call it seeing stars or feeling like ants are crawling in their head.
Any time an individual has sustained a concussion, it is important that they seek medical advice without delay.
As Hippocrates said many years ago, “No head injury is too severe to despair of, nor too trivial to ignore.”
Any attorney representing a victim of a concussion needs to know that there is nothing mild about a mild traumatic brain injury or a concussion.