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Life-Changing Effects of Car Crash Brain Injury

Late-night crash ends woman’s preparation for a second career in legal practice.

Brain injuries sustained in car crashes are invisible, and therefore difficult to prove in court. The effects of brain injuries are often life-changing. Sometimes, these injuries are minimized or ignored at the time of the crash, surfacing only later. The question becomes one of cause: did the crash and the brain injury sustained at that time actually cause the symptoms and effects that emerged somewhat later?

The plaintiff was a 60-year-old woman who had been a teacher of mentally challenged and emotionally disturbed children for 30 years. Her long-term plan for her life was to practice law after retiring from her current career at age 65. She had earned a law degree some 10 years earlier. She was portrayed as a person with high levels of energy before the crash. The crash caused cognitive deficits, as well as injuries to her ribs, back and neck.

The crash occurred late on a winter night. A tractor-trailer was traveling on Interstate 64. It developed a leak in the hose that connected the fuel tank with the engine. The fuel continued to leak onto the pavement when the truck turned onto Interstate 95.

Plaintiff was a passenger in a car driven by her husband. The vehicle hit a patch of the leaked fuel, which caused it to become airborne and then to travel down an embankment. The car stopped only when the front of the car crashed into the ground and became trapped in the ground. The car was totaled.

The couple’s son drove from New York to pick up his parents, arriving roughly 14 hours later. Plaintiff then visited a local physician, who diagnosed the injuries sustained as “cervical strain” and “head contusions.”

Plaintiff returned to work, but missed more than 80 days during the next year. As a result, she received a bad review from her supervisor. During the next year, plaintiff continued to work and received an exemplary rating, which resulted in a salary increase. Her attorneys attributed both the raise and the review to the kindness of her supervisors and co-workers.

Was the car crash really the cause of her injuries and deficiencies? This was the critical issue when the case reached the courtroom. The complicating factors in this case were (1) the widely ranging effects of brain injuries, and (2) the delay before plaintiff sought medical attention.

Defendant’s attorneys questioned the presence and severity of a brain injury, and asserted that she had recovered fully from the injuries sustained in the crash. Defendant’s attorneys also pointed to the fact that plaintiff had lost no earning capacity as an argument against plaintiff’s claims.

Plaintiff’s attorneys used models and diagrams to demonstrate the effects of the brain injury, and presented test results and expert opinions that supported the claim of ongoing cognitive losses.

The jury, after a two-day trial, returned a verdict in roughly 40 minutes for the plaintiff. They awarded $5.2 million to plaintiff.

This case ended in 2001. During the last 16 years, scientists and physicians have gained in their understanding of brain injuries and how they evolve into cognitive deficiencies. Attorneys can now draw upon a number of studies demonstrating that the effects of a brain injury might not be apparent immediately, and may evolve over time.

There are many ways to help members of a jury understand the nature of a brain injury and how it affects the mental and emotional functions in the brain. We understand far more today about how the brain works and how injury disrupts normal mental functions. If you or a loved one has sustained a brain injury, including a brain injury resulting in more deficiencies over time, and the event that caused the injury was not your fault, you may have the right to seek financial compensation as outlined by Virginia law. Call the trusted attorneys of Altizer Law, P.C., for an evaluation of your case. We will be happy to help you understand the nature of your case and the options available to you.


Common Injuries Caused by Auto Accidents