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$559,000 Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Verdict

Middlesex Superior Court Civil Action No.: 03-4603-J

Date of Verdict:  August 9, 2006

Plaintiff was a 43 year old mother of two teenaged sons who sustained a mild traumatic brain injury while a passenger on a shuttle bus operated by the defendant rental car company.  A portion of the bus’ ceiling crashed on the plaintiff’s head and knocked her unconscious while she was riding to the airport in Phoenix, Arizona.  The plaintiff regained consciousness when the bus arrived at the drop off location.  EMT’s responded and against their advice plaintiff returned to Boston without going to the hospital.  She attempted to go to work the day after she returned but was sent home.  When plaintiff continued to suffer from severe headaches she went to a hospital emergency room where x-rays and CT scans of her head were negative.  In addition to headaches, she also developed severe stuttering and memory difficulties.  She was referred to a neurologist who then referred her to a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with a conversion disorder, a condition in which underlying psychological distress produces physical symptoms.  She was also sent for an MRI of her brain, which was also negative.

When she applied for SSDI, the federal government sent her for neuropsychological testing.  This revealed significant cognitive deficits which the examiner concluded prevented her from working.  She saw a new neurologist who sent her for additional neuropsychological testing which confirmed the presence of significant deficits.  As this neuropsychologist concluded there were psychological factors which were interfering with her recovery, she was also referred to a clinical psychologist.  Plaintiff also requested services from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission to help her return to work.

Plaintiff brought a claim for her injuries and claims on behalf of her sons (known as “loss of consortium” claims) for the effects of her injuries upon them.  At trial, plaintiff presented testimony from an expert neuropsychologist to educate the jury about the nature of mild traumatic brain injury, specifically, that the term “mild” refers to the fact that imaging studies are usually normal and that symptoms of an immediate life threatening injury are not present.  The jury was also taught that although most persons who sustain a mild traumatic brain injury do recover, a significant minority are left with permanent cognitive impairments.  The plaintiff’s expert neuropsychologist also explained that due to her injury, the plaintiff suffered from significant permanent impairments in attention, concentration, working memory and processing speed.  Plaintiff’s vocational rehabilitation counselor from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission also testified that due to her impairments, plaintiff would be unable to return to her previous employment as a clinical educator in respiratory therapy.

The defendant argued that plaintiff  did not suffer from a mild traumatic brain injury but was either suffering from a conversion disorder or faking her injury.  The defendant presented testimony from three experts on its behalf: a neuropsychologist; a psychiatrist; and a neurologist.  In cross-examination, plaintiff’s counsel was able to demonstrate that the three experts did not agree on fundamental principles of brain injury medicine.  Cross-examination also revealed that the defense neuropsychologist did not administer all of the tests necessary to diagnose plaintiff’s brain injury, that there was no medical literature supporting the defense neurologist’s claim that there was no such thing as a mild traumatic brain injury, and that the defense psychiatrist agreed that the course of plaintiff’s recovery was consistent with a mild traumatic brain injury.

After approximately three days of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the amount of $300,000 and for each of her sons in the amount of $60,000.   Together with pre-judgment interest, the verdict totaled slightly over $569,000.

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