Brain Swelling After a Car Accident: What You Need to Know


    According to data published by the Brain Injury Alliance, approximately 2.8 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year. One of the most concerning side effects of this type of personal injury is brain swelling, which can have a host of different negative immediate and long-term impacts on the overall quality of life of the accident victim.

    When a driver suffers a brain injury that causes swelling after an accident, they are often concerned not only for their physical health but also the myriad of financial costs that result from the event. When another driver is at fault for the victim’s injuries, that person may be liable for financially compensating the injured victim for any damages incurred from the crash. Read on for what drivers should know about brain swelling after a car accident.

    Common Causes of Brain Swelling

    Also known as edema, swelling occurs in many places throughout our body and it is the body’s response to many different types of injury. When individuals think of swelling on their body, they often think of bruised knees or other contusions suffered on various parts of our skin. However, swelling can occur internally as well, on any organ or internal body part that contains blood capillaries. This includes the brain.

    There are many different causes of brain swelling that medical researchers have identified over the years. One of the leading causes most commonly associated with car accidents and personal injury litigation is traumatic brain injury (TBI). Also known as a head injury, brain injury, or acquired brain injury, a TBI is defined as a sudden (i.e. traumatic) event that damages the brain. TBIs occur from both the physical contact itself and also the quick acceleration and deceleration of the head and neck.  

    TBIs can result from slips and falls, auto accidents, being struck in the head by an object, and physical assaults. The initial brain trauma can cause the brain to swell. However, blood vessels can also rupture through contact with broken bone fragments after initial contact, which can also lead to brain swelling as the body responds to the injury. If the brain swells to a certain degree, death will occur.

    Brain swelling is a silent killer that often overcomes the victim before he knows it is happening. This is why close monitoring of victims of head trauma is essential for at least 24 hours after the injury occurs. Close friends and family should look for tell-tale signs of a medical emergency such as disorientation, confusion, and lethargy following head trauma. The victim should be immediately taken to an emergency room if he has any of these symptoms. Examples of people who seemed OK after a head trauma and ultimately died are Natasha Richardson after a skiing accident, and  Brittanie Cecil, who was struck by a deflected hockey puck at a NHL game. Bob Saget also tragically succumbed to a head injury.

    Other causes of brain swelling include both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke and are caused by a blood clot or blockage near the brain. When the brain is not able to receive blood (and the oxygen it contains), the brain responds by swelling. Hemorrhagic strokes, as the name implies, involve blood leaking in the brain. As the body responds to this blood leak, pressure and swelling builds in the brain.

    Although TBIs and strokes are not directly related, incurring a traumatic brain injury after an auto accident can exacerbate any underlying risk of either an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke. Other causes of brain swelling include infections, tumors, and high altitudes.

    Identifying Symptoms of Brain Swelling

    After suffering a personal injury to the head in a car accident, there are many different symptoms for which accident victims should be on the lookout. Common symptoms include headaches, neck pain and/or stiffness, nausea and vomiting, feeling dizzy, irregular breathing patterns, vision loss or changes in vision, memory loss, difficulty walking and/or speaking, experiencing a seizure, and loss of consciousness. In more serious injury cases, where the head trauma is left untreated, brain swelling can result in impairment of brain functions and/or permanent brain damage.

    An accident victim may experience some or all of these symptoms if their brain is swelling as a result of their injury. Often, these symptoms begin suddenly and may not present themselves until after an initial assessment at the scene of the accident. Therefore, it is imperative that anyone who has recently been the victim of an auto accident seek medical attention if they start experiencing these symptoms. Once they are stable, it may also be time to contact a local experienced personal injury attorney to discuss the possibility of litigation to recover compensation for the costs of their medical care.

    Diagnosing Brain Swelling

    The previous section of this article outlined some of the most commonly reported symptoms of individuals who are suffering from swelling of the brain. To accurately diagnose severe head injuries like brain swelling, physicians will use information about any presenting symptoms in combination with a variety of  different exams and tests.

    Some of the most common tests and exams used to diagnose brain swelling include a general head and neck examination, a neurological exam, and a CT scan of the head to identify what parts of the brain the swelling is occurring in, as well as the severity. Additional testing can include an MRI of the head to identify the extent of the swelling, blood tests to check for any additional causes of swelling, and a lumbar puncture/spinal tap.

    As the reader can see, the amount of testing that accompanies accurate brain swelling diagnosis can be significant, and an accident victim’s insurance may or may not provide coverage for all of the necessary procedures used during the assessment and diagnosis period. Therefore, consultation with an experienced local personal injury attorney is advised in order to determine if the other party involved in the accident should be taken to court to provide compensation for the costs associated with the victim’s medical care.

    Treating Brain Swelling

    Sometimes, when the degree of brain swelling is the result of a more mild traumatic brain injury, the issue can resolve itself within a couple of days. However, when individuals incur an injury to the head after a vehicle crash that causes brain swelling, it's typically a more severe injury and more intensive intervention should begin immediately. 

    When treating brain swelling, the objective is to ensure that the brain is receiving enough blood and oxygen to continue normal functioning while the swelling is relieved and the underlying cause is treated. Often, this requires both medical and surgical intervention. Some of the most common treatments used to address brain swelling include:

    • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, where a respirator or chamber ensures that the patient’s blood has sufficient oxygen.
    • IV fluids and medicine via IV drops to stabilize blood pressure and reduce swelling.
    • Inducing lower body temperature to reduce brain swelling, although this treatment is not often used.
    • Medication to address the swelling as well as slow the body’s immune response to the swelling and remediate any clotting.
    • Ventriculostomy, where a surgeon drains cerebrospinal fluid from inside the brain via a small hole drilled into the skull.

    Contacting A Personal Injury Attorney

    The impact of swelling on the brain can be debilitating if not treated promptly and properly. In addition, the financial costs involved with medical care as well as lost wages and other factors can have a substantial impact on the quality of life of those individuals who suffered personal injury in a motor vehicle accident.

    When the accident victim suspects that the other driver’s negligent behavior caused the accident and subsequent injury, he or she should contact an experienced local personal injury attorney as soon as possible. These legal professionals can help accident victims develop a case conceptualization and plan for how to go about litigation. Attorneys will guide the victim through the process to ensure that their time in court is successful and that no money is left on the table in terms of monetary compensation awarded by the court for damages incurred.

    Negligence in Personal Injury Claims

    As previously stated, an accident victim should consult with an experienced local personal injury attorney when they believe another driver’s actions caused the accident. Whether or not a plaintiff and their legal team is successful in litigation ultimately depends on whether or not they can prove the defendant was negligent and that this negligence caused the accident and subsequent personal injury.

    Illinois state law follows a doctrine of fault determination known as “comparative negligence.”  Under this system, an injured person may recover damages if she or she is determined by the court to be less than 50% at fault for the events that caused the accident. In other words, if an accident victim is deemed to have been more than halfway responsible for the accident, they forfeit their right to recover monetary compensation for damages that have been sustained.

    One important consideration is that the court will likely reduce any final compensation award by a degree that is proportional to the amount of fault the plaintiff is assessed.  For example, if the plaintiff was 25% at fault for the accident, they can still recover compensation from the defendant but the overall amount awarded by the court will be reduced by 25%.

    Professional Legal Counsel in Chicagoland

    Pursuing litigation in order to recover monetary compensation after a traumatic brain injury can be a difficult process for the average American, especially when they are still in the process of receiving treatment and intervention for their injuries.

    If yourself or a loved one have suffered from brain swelling after a car accident, contact the attorneys at Palermo Law Group, who have been helping car crash victims in Oak Brook and throughout Chicagoland as they navigate the litigation process and pursue compensation for their injuries. Contact Palermo Law Group today for a consultation on your case and take the first step toward recovering fair compensation for your injuries.




    Mario Palermo is the Founder and Lead Attorney at Palermo Law Group in Oak Brook, Illinois. For the past 26 years, he has worked tirelessly to help injury victims and their families in their times of need. He is a seasoned authority on civil litigation, and also a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, a prestigious group of trial lawyers who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. Mr. Palermo has been named a “Leading Lawyer” by his peers in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

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