Over the last 30 years, the science of brain injuries, particularly concussions, advanced tremendously. In prior generations, a person may have "had their bell rung" and been told to "tough it up," but now we know that even "minor" brain injuries have serious consequences. I sat down with award-winning truck accident injury attorney Michael Grossman to discuss these changes, how they impact victims and get a feel for brain injury settlements.
How Has Concussion Science Changed Over the Last 3 Decades?
JC: Thanks for taking the time to discuss this important subject with me, Mike. Can you discuss your background a little bit? I'm sure folks are curious what an attorney could possibly have to say about brain injuries.
Attorney Michael Grossman: Jeff, as you know, I'm going on my 4th decade of practicing personal injury law and my practice focuses exclusively on serious injuries and wrongful deaths. Let's get this out of the way, as you said, I'm an attorney, not a doctor. However, a big part of any injury litigation is the medical science behind the injuries, so while I certainly can't diagnose or treat an injury, I can't do my job without a working understanding of injuries and how they impact a case.
JC: You mention that you established your practice decades ago and that your job requires you to keep up to date on the science of brain injuries, how has that science changed over time?
Attorney Michael Grossman: There have been so many changes in the last couple of decades regarding brain injuries, but one jumps out as most important change. We now know that concussions can be a serious injury. When I started practicing, we just didn't know what we know today about concussions. They were thought to be a minor injury that might leave you with a headache for a few days, but were otherwise harmless.
We can see this change throughout society. Whereas 20 years ago, most people would cheer a particularly hard hit in a football game, we've seen the consequences for the players later in life, and its not a pretty picture.
Now we know that concussions aren't trivial and certainly not something to cheer. I've represented people who had no history of concussions, but sustained one in a crash, or on the job, and they had persistent, life-altering symptoms. It's a bit scary to realize that what we used to think of as a knock on the head can substantially alter your life.
JC: You know that many of us around the office are fond of quoting the movie Training Day, specifically the line that "it's not what you know, it's what you can prove." How does that apply to brain injuries?
Attorney Michael Grossman: A successful legal case isn't just about throwing around a bunch of accusations, but also backing them up with evidence. For a few years after concussion science started to show that it was indeed a major brain injury, there was still the problem of proving that in court. Juries are obviously only human. Like everyone else, jurors do not like to feel like someone is trying to take advantage of them. Back then, this made proving the seriousness of a concussion very difficult. No one can see a headache or memory loss from the jury box. This gave defense attorneys free reign to question the legitimacy of an injured person's claim, without coming off as mean-spirited.
However, the tide turned in the mid-to-late 2000s, with the development of better brain imaging technology. In a sense, it allowed the jury to finally see for themselves what was going on inside someone's head. I don't pretend to understand all of the intricacies of reading brain images. In many respects, I'm a lot like the jurors who need an expert to explain to me what is happening in these images. In fact, one of my early litmus tests for determining which experts to use in these cases was to ask, "Can this guy explain these images to me?" I knew that if they couldn't clearly tell me what was going on, there was no hope that they could educate a jury.
What Do Technological Changes Mean for Traumatic Brain Injury Accident Victims?
JC: Can you talk a little bit more about how these changes impact your work and help victims with brain injuries?
Attorney Michael Grossman: Sure. It's probably best to take a step back and take the 30,000 foot view of litigation. My job is obviously to get victims the financial help they need after they suffer a catastrophic injury. On the other side, the defense attorney's job is to get his client out of trouble by paying as little as possible.
Generally speaking, he can accomplish his goals in one of two ways. First, he can try and blame the victim for causing their own injury. Sometimes, when an 18-wheeler slams into a stopped car, or a bar overserves a drunk driver who goes on to kill someone else, blaming the victim doesn't work. The other avenue that defense attorneys can take is to question the severity of the victim's injuries.
When I first started practicing, this second strategy was quite effective against brain injuries. As I mentioned before, no one could see inside a person's head, so juries had to rely on the victim's testimony. This left juries in an awkward position, since they had to either take the victim's testimony as gospel, or discount the severity of the injury. Imaging technology bolsters witness testimony. Not only do juries now hear about how an injury impacts the victim, but they get to see that the victim's brain suffered some type of damage.
Traumatic Brain Injuries and the Client
JC: In what ways have the changes in brain injury science affected your clients?
Attorney Michael Grossman: I'm glad you asked that, and I know people will be skeptical hearing this from a lawyer, but at the end of the day, the reason that everyone at Grossman Law Offices comes to work is because of our passion for helping our clients. Before recent advances it in the field, brain injuries probably impacted my clients in a way that few other injuries did.
With most catastrophic injuries, you can look at a person and see that they went through something terrible. Except for the most traumatic brain injuries, that isn't always the case with a traumatic brain injury. Early in my career, I had clients tell me that they thought they were going crazy or that they didn't feel like anyone believed them. It's incredibly isolating for a person to know something's wrong, but have no way to demonstrate it to even their loved ones.
While there aren't any cures for serious brain injuries, at the very least, technological advances allow these folks to see confirmation that they did in fact suffer an injury, that it's a physical problem, not psychological. Leaving aside any legal considerations, it's powerful just how much a diagnosis helps an injured person. For too long, people with serious brain injuries didn't always get the closure that a diagnosis provides. Now they do.
Getting the Injured the Help They Need
JC: It's obvious that these experiences made a strong impression on you. How have they impacted your practice?
Attorney Michael Grossman: First, not everyone knows a brain doctor, let alone where to find the experts in this fast-advancing field. Because of what I do for a living, I've had to cultivate those relationships. So before we even know if their is a viable case to litigate, I know that I can connect victims with people who can help them.
With brain injury cases, there's always the extra motivation knowing that my clients depend on me and my team, because often there aren't any effective cures. This means that many brain injury victims need expensive medical care and pain management for the rest of their lives. At the same time, their injury diminishes their ability to earn a living, provide for their families, or in extreme cases, care for themselves. My team and I can't have an off day, given the stakes of these cases.
JC: We've discussed a lot about how brain injuries impact the client, the stakes of these cases, strictly from an attorney's perspective, how is a brain injury different from other kinds of cases?
Attorney Michael Grossman: Perhaps the things that most people don't understand until they need an attorney is that not every lawyer has a lot of experience with brain injury cases. Most personal injury attorneys keep the lights on by handling car accident cases. Injuries in most car accidents aren't that severe, and since most people carry a minimum limits insurance policy, proving that relatively small amount of damages doesn't require as much work. Usually medical bills alone will do the trick.
Brain injuries are a different matter. The financial consequences of brain injuries go beyond just the medical bills. Proving these losses to a jury requires subject matter experts who can not only diagnose and treat the client, but communicate the extent of the injury to a jury. I know that attorneys often have a difficult time clearly communicating the intricacies of the law to those outside the profession and a similar problem exists for many brain injury doctors. This can hurt the client, because if an expert can't communicate an injury accurately and clearly to a layperson, they're going to have problems in front of a jury made of a non-doctors.
Thankfully, my experience with these cases has allowed me to come across doctors who are not only adept at diagnosing brain injuries, but can explain the injury and its impact in clear, concise English.
What Victims Need to Know
JC: What do you think accident victims who suspect that they might have suffered a brain injury need to know?
Attorney Michael Grossman: There's a lot, but I think my bullet-point presentation would be the following. First, if you suspect that something is off after a crash, don't ignore it. I've represented clients who didn't notice any significant symptoms from their brain injury for weeks or months.
Secondly, the technology exists to give you answers, so reach out for the help you need. Traumatic brain injuries that aren't treated do not get better over time. For men especially, it's not an injury you can just grit your teeth and get through it.
Lastly, if the injury resulted from a commercial vehicle or drunk driving crash, don't assume that most attorneys have a lot of relevant experience handling those types of cases. Ask a lot of questions. Make sure you're comfortable with the answers you get. Some attorneys will act as if you need them more than they need you, and that's a big red flag. An attorney's job requires not only winning in court, but communicating with the clients the strategy for winning in court.
At the end of the day, attorneys give people options, it's up to the client to make the right decision for their circumstances. If a lawyer cannot communicate effectively before you hire them, what are the odds they're going to be better about telling you what they're doing on your case later on?
At the end of the day, brain injuries are obviously a very serious matter. When they result from a vehicle crash, they aren't just a serious medical matters, but also complex legal issues, which require not only the right medical care, but also experienced legal help.