In recent months there have been developments that have raised public awareness of the dangers and prevalence of brain injuries. Last month a federal district judge in Chicago gave preliminary approval to a reworked head injury settlement between student athletes and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Under the terms of this proposed settlement a seventy million dollar fund would be established to test for brain trauma. In addition, the NCAA is required to strengthen return-to-play rules after a brain injury. U.S. District Judge John Lee also suggested removing an across-the-board prohibition from future class action lawsuits relating to concussions. This announcement regarding the NCAA settlement follows an earlier settlement of the National Football League’s (NFL) concussion related lawsuits. The NFL settlement involved the payment of $765 million in potential compensation.
Just this week it was disclosed that former University of Alabama football great Ken Stabler was suffering from Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when he died. Stabler succumbed to colon cancer this summer but for years before his death he displayed symptoms suggestive of CTE. CTE is a degenerative brain disease that is believed to be caused by repetitive head injuries. It was originally found in boxers but has now been diagnosed in football players and even baseball players. Unfortunately, CTE can only be diagnosed positively after death by a microscopic examination of the brain. CTE involves neurological and physiological changes to the brain including the presence of an abnormal protein called tau. CTE causes symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease and eventually to a progressive deterioration of the brain that leads to dementia. The NCAA and NFL settlements were, in part, recognition of the prevalence of CTE among student and professional athletes.
The research into these types of brain injury is still in its infancy. There are many unanswered questions. It is not known how many concussions it takes to cause CTE or over what period of time this might develop. The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) was only created in 2008. It is believed that repeat head injuries are required to cause CTE. For this reason the focus of research has been on athletes. However, this research may eventually assist medical professionals and trial lawyers in evaluating the length and severity of traumatic brain injury in their patients and clients. What we are learning from this, however, is that the symptoms of TBI can be permanent and even degenerative.
Brain trauma can result in a constellation of symptoms ranging from mild to profound. These include, but are not limited to CTE, headaches, loss of memory, fatigue, confusion, problems with impulse control, dementia, intermittent explosive disorder and other mental disorders. It is now believed that some types of problems associated with TBI can actually get worse over time.
In evaluating the injuries to victims of traumatic brain injury it is important for us, as lawyers, to be able to accurately assess what our client’s present and future problems are or will be. In this regard we here at Jinks, Crow and Dickson closely follow the developments in the CSTE’s research. As medical science learns more about these sometimes mysterious problems, we will be better and better able to get our clients adequate and reasonable compensation for their injuries.