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Your guide to brain injuries

Diagram of a brain injury

Whilst brain injuries are often the result of a road accident, a serious injury at home or work, or an incident involving other people, there are occasions when a brain injury may be caused by sub-standard medical treatment.

Surgical or anaesthetic error, a delay in the treatment of a stroke, tumour, aneurysm, abscess or subarachnoid haemorrhage, poor management of pregnancy or childbirth  - all of these circumstances could  result in a brain injury. 

Even after brain damage has been inflicted, if the patient is left untreated or denied appropriate rehabilitation, the risk of speech, memory and impaired movement can be drastically increased. While in some circumstances a progressive recovery can be achieved, for many patients the process may take years or not all.

The impact of a brain injury can range from headaches and personality disorders through to a complete loss of all physical function.

Whether clinical negligence was the cause or has made a brain injury worse, in many cases mental and associated physical disability will often leave the patient requiring constant, lifelong specialist care, support and treatment. At the same time, families trying to come to terms with what has happened will want to understand the reasons why the system failed them.

Duty to both inform and apologise

A hospital trust has a legal ‘Duty of Candour’ to both inform and apologise to patients if mistakes have been made while in their care which have led to significant harm. However, finding out why these mistakes occurred and proving clinical negligence was the cause can still be a significant challenge. A legal specialist with the knowledge and experience of handling such cases can make a crucial difference in succeeding with a claim.

Clinical negligence cases are, understandably, often highly emotionally charged and therefore demand the highest degree of sensitivity and understanding by lawyers during an often long and complex legal process.

Our dedicated team of specialist solicitors at Your Legal Friend has years of experience in successfully resolving many different types of clinical negligence cases. We can help you find out why things went wrong and, crucially, obtain answers and the compensation you need to ensure the future costs of providing the necessary care and treatment will be properly met.

Brain and Head - Injury statistics

1 million – estimated number of people in the UK living with the long-term effects of brain injury

10,000 - 20,000 -  number of severe traumatic brain injuries per year in the UK

Every 90 seconds - someone is admitted to hospital in the UK with acquired brain injury

353,059 – number of UK admissions to hospital with acquired brain injury, 2011-12

213,752 - total UK admissions to hospital for head injury, 2011-12

33.5 per cent -  increase in UK head injury admissions in the last decade

15-24 year old males / 80 year olds  -  groups most at risk of traumatic brain injuries                                                                    

(Headway, The Brain Injury Association - Latest available figures)

What are the common causes of brain injuries?

Brain injuries can be caused by traumatic or non-traumatic circumstances.  A traumatic brain injury occurs due to the impact of an external force which can sometimes penetrate a specific part of the brain and can also involve damage to the scalp and skull.

The most common non-traumatic causes, are:

  • Vascular - such as a stroke caused by a clot in a brain artery or bleeds into the brain
  • Epilepsy
  • Brain tumours (cancers)
  • Metabolic - such as a lack of oxygen to the brain or low blood pressure
  • Drugs, alcohol, low blood sugar, excessive temperature
  • Infective - such as meningitis, tuberculosis, cerebral abscesses, and tropical infections including malaria
  • Raised intracranial pressure (ICP) – a rise in pressure caused by an increase in the amount of surrounding fluid cushioning the brain 

Recognising the symptoms of a brain injury

A brain injury can appear in many different ways, from memory loss to the most severe difficulties involving the conscious state of mind and physical movement. The underlying cause and the specific areas of the damaged brain will largely determine the outward symptoms and effects of the injury.

Common causes and basic symptoms...

A stroke - caused by a blockage in a blood vessel in the brain can damage the motor and sensory pathways in one half of the brain and impair the opposing side of the body. Symptoms include weakness in movement and a loss of sensation in the affected side.

A lack of oxygen to the brain - can result in slight to severely disabling outcomes, such as:

  • Memory loss - if the oxygen deprivation is brief
  • Persistent vegetative state (PVS) - the most severe form of injury, if the oxygen deprivation is extreme

Delay in diagnosis and treatment of raised intracranial pressure  - can result in a complex mix of brain injury, including:

  • Partial sightedness  -  caused by damage to the visual pathways

  • Personality and behaviour changes  -  caused by damage to the frontal lobes

  • Memory loss

Common types of negligence claims for brain injury

A delay or failure to correctly and promptly identify and treat the following common types of brain injuries can almost inevitably lead to impairment and disability.

Brain abscess:    

Delay or failure involving:

  • Providing antibiotics
  • Inadequate draining of abscess
  • Conducting brain scans

Brain aneurysm:

Delay or failure involving:

  • Discharged from hospital prematurely without treatment
  • Treatment or surgery
  • Providing active observation for a possible rupture
  • Performing preventative treatment
  • Providing rehabilitative therapy

Brain injury rehabilitation errors:

Delay or failure involving:

  • Referral to the appropriate neurological rehabilitation unit
  • Providing rehabilitation
  • Providing medication for seizures
  • Prescribing medication for psychotherapeutic treatment
  • Inadequate length of rehabilitation time
  • Incorrect type of rehabilitation

Brain tumour misdiagnosis and delay in treatment errors:

Delay or failure involving:

  • Carrying out an X-ray, MRI scan and CT scan
  • Carrying out the relevant blood tests
  • Misdiagnosis of classic symptoms of a brain tumour
  • Treating a brain tumour 
  • Providing the correct surgery and errors during surgery
  • GP referral of a patient for further investigations when required

Cerebral edema (brain swelling) errors

Delay or failure involving:

  • Diagnosing swelling to the brain
  • Noticing the cause of the swelling
  • Performing a CT or MRI scan
  • Relief of intracranial pressure

How Your Legal Friend can help you...

Surgical or anaesthetic error, a delay in the treatment of a stroke, tumour, aneurysm, abscess or subarachnoid haemorrhage, poor management of pregnancy or childbirth  - all of these circumstances could  result in a brain injury. 

For a claim to be successful, you have to prove that:

  • The doctor, surgeon or hospital - was in breach of the duty of care they owed to the patient.
  • The care received - fell below the standard that could “reasonably be expected” from a qualified specialist in the appropriate field.
  • The lack of care - directly led to the injury which was a “reasonably foreseeable consequence” of the actions or omissions of the doctor or another providing the treatment.

As experienced clinical negligence specialists, we know that if you or a member of your family has received poor care which appears to have resulted in a brain injury, you need expert legal help and support.

We are committed to ensuring your case is fully investigated so you can obtain answers and receive the compensation you need to secure present and future care needs, including the cost of special equipment and adaptations to your home.