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How Are Brain Injuries Classified?

De Caro & Kaplen partner Michael V. Kaplen, a three-term president of the Brain Injury Association of New York State, and professorial lecturer at law, teaching a course in brain injury law at the George Washington University Law School, discusses the current method of classifying brain injuries, and why this outdated classification can lead to misunderstandings in treatment, consequences, and rehabilitation for brain injury survivors.

When individuals with a traumatic brain injury are evaluated by medical professionals in emergency departments or in private offices, their injury is typically labeled as “mild”, “moderate” or “severe”. 

Why is the classification of brain injuries as mild, moderate, or severe inappropriate?

Labeling a brain injury as mild, moderate, and severe is inaccurate and outdated.  It does not serve clinicians, patients, or their families.  It leads to misunderstandings in treatment, consequences, and rehabilitation.

There is nothing “mild” about a mild traumatic brain injury.

What do medical experts say about the current brain injury classification scheme?

Dr. Kristen Dams-O’Connor director of the Brain Injury Research Center at New York’s  Mount Sinai School of Medicine is quoted as saying  “There are too many times where these labels either make it hard for a person to get the care they need, or when these labels put people in a category that can set expectations that our research suggests turns out to not be true.” 

What do brain injury attorneys say about the current brain injury classification scheme?

From a legal perspective, the term mild is a misnomer that unfairly affects the ability of an individual to obtain services, and compensation following their injury. 

What steps are being taken to change the way traumatic brain injuries are classified?

The National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke is planning a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Classification and Nomenclature Workshop to be held January 22 – 23, 2024, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD.

The goal of this workshop is the development of a more precise, and evidence-based classification system replacing the archaic and misleading mild, moderate and severe terms that are used for brain injury classification.

About The Author

Michael V. Kaplen

Michael V. Kaplen represents victims of vehicle collisions, unsafe buildings and construction sites, and medical malpractice, and is a preferred attorney of The Brain Injury Association of America.

Michael is board certified as a Civil Trial Advocate and board certified in medical malpractice litigation. He is a Professorial Lecturer in Law, The George Washington University Law School, The Legal Aspects of Traumatic Brain Injury.

Michael is past chairman of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Automobile, Highway and Premise Liability Section, past chairman of the AAJ Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, three term president of the Brain Injury Association of New York State served two terms as chair of the New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council and vice-president, New York State Academy of Trial Lawyers.

He was invited by President Obama to participate in the White House Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit.

He is admitted to courts in New York, Florida, and Washington, DC. He has been selected as a New York Super Lawyer and recognized by Best Lawyers of America and U.S. News and World Report in personal injury law.

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