Brian Owens, a specialist litigation executive with FDR Law, based in Palmyra Square, Warrington discusses the different types of brain injuries and how legal support can help
In the UK we are extremely fortunate to have an NHS which provides medical care and treatment to all free of charge at the point of delivery. Everyone has the right to expect appropriate, professional and timely medical treatment whether or not this is as a result of some traumatic incident or a long-term health issue.
Many of us will never have the need to call on the NHS to provide such medical treatment and for the majority of those that do, they will receive first class appropriate care and treatment. There are though exceptions to this basic premise.
An injury to the brain is often a very significant injury but not one that will always be obvious from an external perspective. There are various ways in which the brain may be injured, the most obvious being a traumatic brain injury such as falling masonry hitting the head, an injury caused during and immediately after birth known as birth hypoxia, as a result of an individual suffering an epileptic seizure from an infection which goes undetected or from a stroke.
Of course, the more serious the brain injury, the more obvious it will be to family, friends and members of the public. Not all brain injuries are severe and some may be all but undetectable to the external observer. There have been many instances where strange unusual or odd behaviour has simply been put down to the fact that the individual is either under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
There are many cases where an individual for whatever reason has suffered perhaps a moderate or slight brain injury and the family have rallied round and coped and cared for that person as they have grown up. It is only very often when that person reaches late teenage years or adulthood and the family have been unable to obtain or acquire any support or assistance that the family eventually turn to seek advice. They have simply tried to cope over the years and have now reached the point where they are unable to do so and have concerns as to how their family member will manage in later life.
Types of brain injury
A serious head injury may result in changes to the brain function. This is called a traumatic brain injury. It may occur as a result of a person being involved in a motoring accident, a fall either at work or for example down a flight of stairs. Sporting activities may also lead to head trauma including participating in games of football, rugby and the more extreme sports such as boxing and alpine sports.
Often the injured person will make what appears to be from a physical perspective a full recovery. However, where the brain has been injured, this may affect such simple tasks such as tying shoelaces, fastening buttons or the ability to assess danger or to use money in a safe manner.
Injury to the newborn can be caused during birth or in the days and weeks thereafter particularly if the birth is premature and care is required in the special care baby units (SCBU). Injury to the newborn brain can occur due to deprivation of oxygen but also through a range of infections which occasionally can lead to severe difficulties in the future.
Following the identification of an underlying maternal health issue, the birth took place some weeks before full-term. As a result of failure to monitor oxygen levels correctly, injury to the young brain occurred leaving the baby in need of 24-hour a day care.
As in many cases, there was not one single issue that caused injury but often a culmination of events. Here there was a failure to correctly and promptly assess the Cardiotocogram (CTG) trace to take action and to summon assistance when with proper monitoring and action injury would have been avoided.
Here, as can often be the case, although the lack of oxygen caused injury to the brain resulting in both physical and cognitive injuries, such is not always the case. In this case there is again a need for lifelong support in respect of care, provision of equipment, suitable home and ongoing therapies.
However, the brain is injured, there is a huge diversity as to how such injury affects the individual. In the most severe of cases, the brain damaged person has no ability to function and requires 24 hour a day, 365 days a year care. This requires a team of carers to feed, wash, dress and as importantly provide company, stimulation and entertainment for the injured person. With this comes a wealth of equipment and supporting services such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and a vast array of aids and appliances in a suitable accommodation.
At the other extreme, some patients are able with minimal support and guidance to lead a very fulfilling life.
In-between is a huge range of needs not all of which will be required by every individual but most will require at least some support and assistance particularly in managing money.
Most patients though will require some assistance with mobility. This may be aids to walking or more often powered wheelchairs. Younger patients frequently require such equipment such as K-Walkers which provide a degree of independence and support. As the person ages, the need for a push wheelchair or more probably a motorised wheelchair increases.
Often with an early intervention of an approved Case Manager, provision of physiotherapy, speech and language therapy to help with communication and swallowing which is a particular difficulty with cerebral palsy sufferers together with occupational therapists the injured person can maintain a level of independence. In some instances, these services are not provided for a variety of reasons by the NHS and unless assistance is provided even going so far as to bringing a damages claim against an individual Trust, the parent or carers of such injured persons are left very much on their own to cope.
Help and Assistance
Faced with the responsibility of caring for a child with an acquired brain injury is a demanding prospect. Although there is help via the National Assistance Act and local authorities have some responsibilities to carry out adaptations to properties, it is very often the case that the parents are left to manage day to day themselves. It is vital that appropriate support is provided at an early stage and continued not just into the teenage years but beyond and into adulthood. For many people so injured without parents or family to look after them, they would be wholly unable to manage for themselves.
Often the only recourse is to pursue legal remedies. Providing breach of duty of care and causative loss can be established, appropriate funds can be made available to provide lifelong care and security for the injured person.