An overlooked cause of traumatic brain injuries: domestic violence

In recent years, brain injury researchers have begun to study the effects of repeated concussive forces on the delicate tissues of the human brain. Some patients sustain life-altering traumatic brain injuries after a single incident, like a car accident, an explosion, or a blow to the head. Others experience a gradual cognitive deterioration as the effects of multiple smaller injuries compound over months or years.

People who experience multiple brain injuries are at risk for a degenerative condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Even after the repeated trauma to the brain stops, the brain of a CTE sufferer continues to degrade, losing mass over time and building up harmful levels of tau proteins. CTE sufferers can experience cognitive decline, loss of muscle control, headaches, loss of emotional control, suicidality, and other symptoms that become progressively worse over time.

CTE has been studied in professional athletes who sustain repeated blows to the head and military veterans who are exposed to explosions. Now, researchers are examining a different group of patients at risk for CTE: victims of domestic violence.

According to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated 22.3% of women and 14.0% above the age of 18 in the United States have experienced severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. These statistics do not include people who have experienced other forms of domestic violence, such as children or elderly people who are struck on the head, pushed into walls, pushed downstairs, or thrown or allowed to fall by their caretakers.

Because people who experience intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic violence may not be able to leave an abusive situation, they are at high risk of experiencing repetitive head traumas that can lead to the development of CTE. Patients with brain injuries also present a unique challenge for social workers and other people helping them to escape an abusive situation; they may have trouble accessing the support they need and are more likely to struggle in shelter environments. They may have trouble keeping jobs or caring for children because their brain injuries impact their memory, concentration, and executive function skills.

The unique legal challenges of injuries caused by domestic violence

At Davis Law Group, we work with many people who have sustained brain injuries as the result of a traumatic experience. Every year, we receive hundreds of calls from people whose lives have been changed as the result of a traumatic brain injury.

When someone sustains an injury as a result of the negligence of a person or company, they can often collect damages from an insurance company. For instance, a person who is injured by a negligent driver can collect damages from that driver’s car insurance company; a person who is injured at a store may be able to collect damages from the insurance company that insures that premise.

Unfortunately, insurance companies rarely cover intentional acts of violence. This means that victims of domestic violence may have difficulty collecting damages to pay for their medical bills, time off work as the result of an injury, and other expenses. After escaping from an abuser, they may also be reluctant to face the person who hurt them in court.

Victims of domestic violence in Washington state may be able to apply for compensation through the Crime Victims Compensation Program. Each year, the state sets aside a pool of money that can help the victims of violent crimes cover the expense of medical bills, sexual assault examinations, and certain other expenses.

In rare cases, someone may be assaulted and injured by a person who was supposed to be under governmental supervision. For instance, a felon who was accidentally released from prison too early might injure someone during the time that they were supposed to be incarcerated. In these cases, a victim might be able to sue the governmental agency that was supposed to be supervising their assailant. If you suspect that this was the case, it may be time to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to understand your legal rights.

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