Is a Concussion a Permanent Injury in North Carolina?
There is no consensus as to whether a concussion is a permanent injury. Researchers are making progress on how to diagnose concussions early and how to counteract their damage. For lawyers and their clients experiencing concussions, the slow progress in reaching consensus regarding definitions can present many challenges. However, there is an agreement in that it’s a “traumatic brain injury” (TBI) and North Carolina has a statute designed to tackle TBI. As skilled concussion attorneys, we have an insight into the nuances of this definition in North Carolina. Call us at (704) 376-1616 to share with us the particulars of your situation to see if we can be of further assistance.
While research has indicated that concussions can have long-lasting consequences, including an increased risk of neurological declines such as Parkinson’s and dementia, there is no definitive understanding that concussions are permanent injuries. Is an injury considered permanent when the time between the injury and permanent future mental decline may be many years? This question of permanency comes up often in North Carolina Workers’ Compensation claims; for example, it comes up when there is uncertainty if a worker who suffers a concussion has a permanent partial disability or permanent total disability. As Workers’ Compensation practitioners we grapple with these complicated legal and medical questions often. Whether you suffered a sports-related TBI that began with a concussion or you are experiencing a complicated post-concussion syndrome, we can help you through this trying time.
How is Concussion and TBI Defined in North Carolina?
According to the Brain Injury Association of North Carolina, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury. North Carolina adopts the concussion definition of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) defining a concussion as the result of a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to rush back and forth. Concussions can occur in multiple ways, but there is a consensus in that they cause the brain to bounce around or twist the skull, stretching and damaging brain cells leading to chemical changes in the brain. The potential for permanent changes arises with the level of chemical changes.
Many clients who suffer concussions approach us upon denial of a Workers’ Compensation claim or because they suffered a concussion in a car accident. Due to the unpredictable nature of the health and cognitive complications associated with concussions, sometimes people miss important deadlines that must be followed to pursue a cause of action in North Carolina.
North Carolina has created a Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council (TBIAC) entrusted with looking at the TBI definition and into whether it should be changed to include “acquired brain injury” or other appropriate conditions. There are research studies in place that may lead to changes in the definition of traumatic brain injury.
The definition of TBI in North Carolina is currently under Section 122C-3 (12a) North Carolina’s Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Act of 1985 as a “Developmental Disability,” caused by a traumatic head injury and is manifested after age 22. Under this context, a concussion can meet the criteria of a permanent injury since it provides various angles in which the symptoms suffered lead to permanent physical impediments. Under the developmental disability statute, “disability” means a severe, chronic disability which:
- Is likely to continue indefinitely.
- Results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of significant life activity: self-care, receptive and expressive language, capacity for independent living, learning, mobility, self-direction, and economic self-sufficiency.
- Reflects the person’s individually planned and coordinated need for a combination and sequence of special interdisciplinary, or generic care, treatment, or other services which are of lifelong or extended duration.
- When applied to children from birth through four years of age, maybe evidenced as a developmental delay.
Dilemmas for North Carolina Workers Experiencing Concussions
While the definition of TBI gives clear indications that a concussion can meet the criteria of a permanent injury, the definition of disability under North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 97-2(9), the term `disability’ means incapacity because of injury to earn the wages which the employee was receiving at the time of injury in the same or any other employment. This concept of incapacity leads to all sorts of complicated “ratings of impairment” and findings on Workers’ Compensation claims that are not always consistent with the daily symptoms endured by a person who suffers a concussion. Impairment ratings are essentially disability ratings used to establish a disability payment method in North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation regime.
Sometimes people who suffer concussions may be capable of some work, but it’s unclear what type of job is suitable for them. This question of suitability is challenging for individuals whose cognitive impairments are unpredictable and inconsistent, as is often the case with concussions’ prognosis. Someone who suffers concussions may have to go through multiple neuropsychological evaluations, have trouble retaining certain material, be unable to withstand a noisy workplace, feel tired quickly. However, most face a dilemma when normal brain function appears in medical tests such as a CT head scan, and brain MRI and EEG while the symptoms are still having an impact in their lives. At times an injury has stabilized in such a way that they are deemed to be able to work after having met the criteria under the legal concept of “maximum medical improvement,” as defined in North Carolina. However, the reality of the worker who suffered the concussion is far from stabilized or improved. Current Workers’ Compensation definitions can create complex legal situations. These legal complexities can cause high anxiety for the person who suffered a concussion at work and is unable to return to work. An experienced concussion attorney can help you through this process.
Charlotte, NC Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussion Lawyers Offering Free Consultations
Whenever we see ourselves or a loved one experiencing the grave consequences of a concussion, we feel overwhelmed with pain and anguish. As experienced concussion practitioners, we know that there are significant financial losses and a deep sense of vulnerability as to future job prospects and life experiences. Call us at (704) 376-1616 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.