Tragedy As A Catalyst For Change In Brain Injury Treatment

By Albert Conforzi | January 28, 2014

Toronto lawyer Albert Conforzi: As a personal injury lawyer in Toronto, I am routinely asked to represent people who have been involved in serious accidents. These victims quickly learn that they must not only deal with the strengths and weaknesses of our healthcare system, but also an insurance regime which routinely denies the very existence of their injuries, or at least the severity of those injuries.

I have pointed out before that insurance regimes, and the doctors they select to perform medical evaluations, will deny the existence of injuries that anyone outside of the insurance world would take at face value.

 Still, it isn’t just the insurance regimes that behave this way. The broader culture is also to blame, and it often takes big names and bigger headlines to change the way we look at things. In this, personal injury and head trauma have been no different. What was once called “getting your bell rung” or “getting a dinger” has recently taken on a whole new significance.
Richardson and Schumacher
A couple of years ago, the actress Natasha Richardson had an accident while skiing. She suffered a blow to the head. Initially, she was examined by doctors and returned back to her room. Within a couple of hours she had lapsed into a coma and died. Following this tragedy, there was much public attention directed towards the very real problem of head injuries, and the risks that go with it. Since then, we’ve also seen the NFL and NHL class-actions which deal with repeated head injury and concussion. They’re front page news, and they’re also big bucks.
I recently came across an article discussing yet another tragedy involving a high-profile sports figure, in this case Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher. He injured himself last month while skiing. His doctors have performed extensive surgery to his skull in order to try to avert the effects of the brain trauma:

After retired race car star Michael Schumacher severely injured his head in a fall while skiing last month, doctors in France removed part of his skull to relieve dangerous swelling in his brain. How much their treatment will help in the long run is an open question.

Aggressive care for head injury can keep some patients alive and maximize the odds of recovery by preventing further damage. Even so, treatment often remains elusive — an invasive, hit-or-miss process that requires months or years of rehabilitation with uncertain results.

Each year 50,000 Americans die from brain trauma and another 275,000 are hospitalized, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Attempts to make drugs to protect injured brain cells have so far failed, so doctors’ main recourse to prevent the damage from spreading is relieving pressure inside the skull as well as removing blood clots.

“We desperately need a breakthrough,” said Peter Andrews, a critical care specialist at the University of Edinburgh.

In the insurance arena, we continue to need a desperate breakthrough as well. We need to reach a point where insurers and other doctors stop denying what is plain and obvious in the medical world outside of personal injury litigation. High profile cases such as those of the NFL lawsuit, and Michael Schumacher’s accident, while tragic, will continue to help break down these barriers.

Albert Conforzi is a personal injury lawyer with Pace Law Firm in Toronto.Pace’s personal injury lawyers have been helping accident victims since 1980.