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Paine Edmonds LLP - Blog

SATURDAY, 24 MARCH 2012 War and Motor Vehicle Accidents: Opening Our Eyes To The Invisible Wound of Concussion


By Stephen Lloyd, Partner at Paine Edmonds LLP, Vancouver Personal Injury Lawyer

I read an interesting article written by Jack Gruber in USA Today regarding the War in Afghanistan. The piece stated that official data from US military
suggested that “concussions may be far more common in combat than previously known and may suggest that thousands of these casualties may have been
missed earlier in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars”. Symptoms of concussion often include brief loss of consciousness, clouded thinking, dizziness and
headaches. It is believed that 90% recover from their symptoms and return to combat, although this can take days or weeks. The USA Today story quoted
military officials who admitted that in prior years “[…]we weren’t doing things the right way”. As Commander Earl Frantz wrote in his August
26, 2011 article for the New York Times, “Treatment for Concussion in War Zones”:

The idea of treating warriors for concussion during the acute phase in the war zone is a new concept. During the first nine years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan,
if a service member was not bleeding or visibly broken on the battlefield, he shook off any cobwebs in his head from an attack and returned to the
fight. As the improvised explosive device, or I.E.D., became the enemy’s weapon of choice, an unprecedented number of warriors were returning from
battle with invisible wounds. Concussion, often called mild traumatic brain injury, is now the most common battlefield injury, affecting more than
300,000 service members since 2001.

Of course, I realize that this is war. This is combat. Nevertheless, what shocked me was that the rise in the number of concussions in war was not necessarily
due to being directly struck on the head by an enemy combatant, or shrapnel, or a bullet, or…anything. It appears that many of the concussions
were arising from simply being within the vicinity of some kind of blast. Any blast. As such, under a new policy implemented in July 2010, troops caught
within 165 feet of a blast (about half the length of a football field) had to be pulled from the battlefield for at least 24 hours to be monitored
for the signs and symptoms of concussion. The result of the new policy: the number of diagnosed concussions skyrocketed.

So what does this have to do with motor vehicle accidents?

Over the last dozen years practicing as a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer in Vancouver, British Columbia, time and time again I have interviewed clients
who, when questioned carefully, reveal that although they have no overt signs of trauma to the head (bumps, bruises, cuts, etc.), they do have the
symptoms of this somewhat invisible injury: concussion or mild traumatic brain injury.

The clues are often quite subtle. The client recalls the sound of screeching tires, and the next thing you know, the other driver is at their window asking,
“Are you OK?”. They vaguely recall being hit but are not sure how their car got pulled over to the side of the road. After the accident they felt confused
and “out of it”. They had an immediate headache, felt dizzy and thought they might throw-up. And after they get home it gets even more strange: food
tastes funny or smells bad, the lights are way too bright, the wallet gets deposited in the fridge, they forget once-familiar phone numbers, keys go
missing, and everything and everyone is incredibly irritating. And of course, most ordinary people would never identify these odd things with suffering
a concussion. This is especially so when the person involved in the car accident either did not hit their head, can’t recall hitting his or her head,
or “only hitting the back of my head on the headrest”. Consequently, these people simply do not discuss these things with their doctor…or anyone
for that matter. They try to “shake off the cobwebs” and carry on.

Now, I am not trying to say that being in a car accident is tantamount to being in combat. Quite frankly, that would be offensive to those who have been
through the horrors of war. I have some sense of that because my grandfather fought in the Second World War, and I had the great privilege of talking
to him extensively about his experiences. However, perhaps we can benefit from some of the hard lessons learned from the experiences of these brave
men and women, and apply them, at least to some degree, to our everyday experiences as ordinary people…ordinary people who sometimes get into
car accidents and experience concussions. At least we can say that, in part, because of these tragedies, concussion is becoming less invisible to ourselves
and consequently, to the family doctors who rely on our own self-report as much as they rely on any physical examination. After all, you can’t treat
what you can’t recognize in the first place.