Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are among the most serious injuries that can result from an automobile crash. There are several different types of traumatic brain injuries and all of them are medical emergencies which can cause death if not treated promptly.
Before considering the various types of brain injury that can be caused in a car crash, it might be helpful to consider the circumstances that make head injuries more likely in a crash. Traumatic brain injuries can occur in any car crash, even in low speed collisions. The likelihood of this happening depend on several factors: the safety rating of the car, the direction of impact, seatbelt use, the efficacy of the airbag system and the size and position of the occupants. It is generally agreed, however, that the more severe the crash, the more likely it is that a TBI will occur.
Crash severity is generally gauged by something referred to as “Delta V.” “Delta V” is an engineering term that simply means difference in velocity. The higher the “Delta V”, the bigger the difference in velocity, the more severe the crash. This is a simplified method for considering the effect of force and energy in a car crash. According to Newton’s second law of motion, force equals mass times acceleration. Force, therefore is a vector quantity. Kinetic energy, however, is a scalar quantity. In a two vehicle crash both vehicles have measurable kinetic energy immediately before the crash. At the end of the crash sequence both vehicles are fully stopped and the total kinetic energy is zero. But this energy has to go somewhere and if it ends up all going into the passenger compartment that is a very bad thing. By determining the Delta V of both vehicles it is possible to gauge the severity of the crash to the accident victims.
There is also a difference between closing speed and Delta V. If two cars, each going 50 MPH, collide in a head on collision, the closing speed is 100 MPH. If, hypothetically, both cars are of equal mass and absorb the same amount of energy, theoretically the Delta V of both vehicles would be 50. It would be almost impossible for this hypothetical to occur in the real world, however.
In an automobile crash situation, there may be three separate and distinct crashes that take place. The first one is the most obvious: when the vehicle strikes another car or object. The second crash occurs when the occupant’s movement causes contact with some part of the interior of the vehicle. The last collision occurs when the internal organs of the occupant collide with each other. The type of traumatic brain injury one would be likely to receive depends on the severity and duration of these three crashes.
From an anatomical point of view, the human head consists of several parts. There is the skin or scalp, the bony skull, the meninges, which are the protective membranes which surround the brain (the dura mater, arachnoid mater and pia mater) and the brain itself. This anatomy can lead to several different traumatic brain injuries in a crash. If the head comes into contact with some part of the car during the crash, such as the steering wheel, one can sustain a skull fracture. A skull fracture can be either open or depressed. A depressed fracture is when the skull is pushed into the brain. Injuries can also occur as a result of the brain being shaken violently or colliding with the bony skull. There can also be injuries resulting from hemorrhaging within the brain itself or between the meninges. These latter injuries are categorized as intracranial hemorrhage, subarachnoid hemorrhage or a subdural hematoma. All of these injuries are potentially life threatening.
Some traumatic brain injuries do not manifest themselves until long after the accident. Shaking of the brain during the crash can result in a concussion, which can be a lot more serious than was once thought.
The U. S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway safety rely on something called “Head Injury Criterion” (HIC) to assess the safety ratings of motor vehicles. The HIC is a way to measure the likelihood of a head injury in a crash. A HIC of 1000 is a life threatening event. A HIC value of 700 or less is required to lessen the likelihood of a severe TBI. Here are some things you can do to lessen your own chances of sustaining a traumatic brain injury during a crash: check out the safety rating of a car before purchase. You can do this by visiting www.safercar.gov/Safety+Ratings. Always wear your seatbelt. Never text and drive or drive distracted. Do not drink and drive. Observe a safe speed.
Automobile crashes, unfortunately, are forseeable. Sometimes a crash tragically results in a traumatic brain injury. At Jinks, Crow and Dickson we continue to strive to represent the victims of negligence that might sustain serious injuries or be killed, including the victims of traumatic brain injury.