When a medical professional is negligent, it could cause many injuries, including brain injuries. Types of brain injuries caused by medical malpractice could range from very mild cognitive impairment to death, including being in a coma. Medical professionals have a standard of care that the profession expects. If the standard of care is not met – whether through action or in action – we may be able to prove negligence, or a breach of the duty owed to the patient.
Causes of Brain Injuries After Medical Malpractice
In most cases, brain damage caused by medical malpractice is from lack of oxygen. Errors that cause a lack of oxygen include anesthesia errors, medication errors, misdiagnosing heart attacks and/or strokes, brain infections that remain undiagnosed, birth injuries, and Kernicterus in newborns.
Additionally, if a medical professional does not stop excessive bleeding during a procedure, fails to diagnose a brain aneurysm or pulmonary embolism, or fails to properly intubate a patient, the oxygen to the brain is compromised and can cause brain injuries.
If the anesthesiologist makes a mistake, the shortage of oxygen can cause brain damage. If the anesthesiologist does not catch the mistake, it could destroy brain cells. Heart attacks and strokes also reduce the amount of oxygen a brain gets. Additionally, strokes cause the body to release a chemical that kills brain cells. Prompt diagnosis of strokes and heart attacks significantly mitigate brain damage.
Brain infections include abscesses, toxoplasmosis, myelitis, meningitis, rabies, mumps, rubella, trichinosis, cerebral cysticercosis, and encephalitis.
A child could suffer brain injuries from lack of oxygen or trauma before, during or after birth. Medical errors that cause brain injuries include:
- Failing to give oxygen to newborns who need it
- Failing to diagnose and/or treat the mother’s medical problems
- Failing to monitor a fetus
- Failing to respond to fetal distress
- Giving the mother improper medications during the pregnancy and/or delivery. Medication errors could cause the baby to have a reduced heart rate, reduce the number of breaths he or she takes, and have allergic reactions, all of which could lead to oxygen deprivation.
- Not performing a C-section on time
- Improperly using delivery instruments, such as the vacuum or forceps.
Not every brain injury that could be the fault of the medical facility is because of medical malpractice or leads to a traditional medical malpractice lawsuit. For example, if a person slips and falls on wet hospital floors or the hospital has poor lighting, which causes someone to trip and fall, that person could suffer a brain injury if they hit their head. The injured person could also sue the hospital for these types of incidents.
Secondary Brain Injuries
Simply put, a secondary brain injury is one the patient suffers because of the initial brain injury. If a patient is not fully recovered from the initial brain injury caused by medical malpractice, he or she could suffer another brain injury – all it takes is hitting the head in a fall or having a heart attack that reduces oxygen to the brain. The secondary brain injury has a much higher risk of causing permanent damage or death. Patients with an initial brain injury are more susceptible to secondary brain injuries, especially those that live alone. Both brain injuries could cause the person to suffer certain side effects, though they are more prevalent in secondary injuries.
Symptoms might include fainting, dizziness, confusion and blackouts. Some patients could even develop epileptic seizures within a year of their injuries.
The Difference Between Traumatic and Non-Traumatic Brain Injuries
Generally, the type of brain injury medical malpractice causes is non-traumatic. This type of brain injury is caused by tumors, lack of oxygen, and infections. The two types of brain injuries caused by lack of oxygen include cerebral hypoxic brain injury (which causes a brain injury due to a decrease in the oxygen supply) and cerebral anoxic brain injury (which causes a brain injury due to no oxygen in the brain).
Doctors who do not diagnose tumors, aneurysms and blood clots on time, medication errors and anesthesia errors typically cause either type of non-traumatic brain injuries.
A traumatic brain injury is when the patient suffers from a blow to the head or something penetrates the skull. A traumatic brain injury includes a doctor’s misuse of instruments during birth. Concussions, even mild concussions, are also traumatic brain injuries. Some forms of traumatic brain injury could cause excessive and uncontrolled bleeding in the brain.
How a Brain Injury Affects a Patient
Those who suffer brain injuries due to medical malpractice could have a significant life change. Daily living activities could become difficult, though how difficult depends on the severity of the brain injury. Brain injuries could affect the following:
- A person’s emotional well-being: Someone with a brain injury could suffer from behavioral problems and depression. The brain injury could cause the person to act inappropriately around others or to act aggressively.
- Cognitive functions: Someone with a brain injury could have trouble reasoning and remembering things.
- Communication: A brain injury could make it difficult for the injured person to process language and speak with others.
- Sensation: A brain injury victim could experience loss of sensory function, including hearing, vision, balance, and other senses.
A brain injury victim could suffer one or more of the above issues for a short time or for life. However, not many people fully recover from brain injuries, so they need long-term treatment, supervision, and other ongoing care. This also means that those with brain injuries can no longer work or enjoy life. If the brain injury is severe, the person could be in a permanent coma or die.
What Should You Do if Medical Malpractice Causes a Brain Injury?
As soon as you realize that a doctor or hospital caused a brain injury due to malpractice, you or a loved one should take several steps:
- Obtain a diagnosis for the brain injury. The doctor diagnosing the brain injury might not admit that another doctor caused the brain injury, but he or she does have to tell you what caused the injury, such as a lack of oxygen.
- If possible, obtain a second opinion. Having two doctors with the same diagnosis increases your chance of recovering the compensation you deserve.
- Contact a medical malpractice brain injury attorney as soon as you believe you or someone you love has suffered a brain injury due to medical malpractice. You do not have to wait until you have a diagnosis to contact brain injury lawyers.
Your doctors will help you with recovery options, which might include therapy and other treatment. Always be sure that you go to every appointment to document your recovery process. If the defendant sees that you do not take recovery treatment seriously, they could argue that you do not really have a brain injury.
Recoverable Damages for a Medical Malpractice Brain Injury
In many cases, medical malpractice victims have two years to bring legal action against a doctor or hospital. (*Always speak directly to an attorney for the exact deadlines that apply to your potential claims. Certain claims require meeting deadlines that come much sooner.) Thus, you should contact a medical malpractice attorney immediately, especially if you knew about the incident for a period of time, but decided to put off speaking to a lawyer at the time.
A medical malpractice brain injury victim could recover compensatory damages and, in some cases, punitive damages. While it is difficult to obtain (and keep) punitive damages, it is worth discussing with your attorney.
The courts order compensatory damages in an attempt to make you whole again. While the money cannot make you recover from brain damage or bring a loved one back, it does reduce the financial stress on your family. Compensatory damages include economic damages with a monetary value and non-economic damages, which are not so easily calculable.
Often referred to as special damages, economic damages include medical expenses, lost wages, loss of future earning income, and funeral expenses. If you lost a loved one due to a brain injury, you might also recover additional expenses that you would not have otherwise incurred, such as probate filing fees and probate attorney fees and costs.
Medical expenses for a brain injury include:
- Doctors’ appointments
- Therapy appointments
- Ambulatory aids
- Expenses for professional care
- Changes to your home to accommodate your injuries, including ramps and grab bars.
You could also recover wages you lost as a result of the brain injury, plus loss of future earning capacity.
Because brain injuries usually result in long-term or permanent disabilities, you could recover compensation for non-economic damages, including:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress
- Loss of quality of life. You can recover extra compensation if you have to take prescriptions, use ambulatory aids, or need care for the rest of your life.
- Loss of consortium if you cannot enjoy a physical relationship with your spouse because of brain injuries
- Loss of companionship if you cannot enjoy spending time with your family and if you cannot take part in family activities and events
- Loss of use of bodily functions and/or body parts
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do, such as grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, house cleaning, and home repair and maintenance.
Courts order punitive damages as a method to punish the defendant, and the plaintiff must show gross negligence or intentional harm. Your brain injury attorney will review and investigate your case to determine whether you could recover punitive damages.
Contact a Houston Medical Malpractice Lawyer
After suffering a brain injury due to a medical professional’s or hospital’s negligence or gross negligence, contact a Houston medical malpractice lawyer at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law for a free case evaluation by calling (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000.