Brain Injury Lawsuits: Learning Disabilities in Children with Brain Injuries

The impact of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) on the life of a child can be catastrophic. Brain injuries are the leading cause of death during childhood. More than half a million children are treated in emergency rooms each year for brain injuries. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the groups most at risk for sustaining a TBI are children under the age of 5 and those who are between 15 and 19. Children are particularly vulnerable to brain injuries because their bodies, skulls and brains are not fully developed.

Traumatic brain injuries occur for many reasons, including motor vehicle or bicycle collisions, high speed impacts during sporting events, and accidental falls. They are usually caused by a blow to the head, although they can also result from violent movement or spinning that shifts the position of the brain.

A TBI changes the way the brain functions. If the areas of the brain responsible for motor control are damaged, a TBI may lead to physical problems, including impairment of balance and coordination. A TBI can also produce emotional difficulties such as depression, anxiety, and irritability. Cognitive impairment -- memory loss, an inability to concentrate, and learning disabilities -- are among the most devastating results of a TBI, particularly when the victim is a child.

The Impact of a Traumatic Brain Injury On Learning

Brain injuries can have a number of effects that have an impact on the ability to learn. Those include:

  • Impairment of the ability to remember new things. Individuals with a TBI generally have better long-term recall of information learned before the injury than of information they acquired after the injury.
  • Difficulty focusing, concentrating, maintaining attention and blocking out distractions.
  • Reducing the speed at which information is processed.
  • Impairment of the ability to communicate effectively. This may involve a loss of language skills as well as a tendency to interrupt, to speak loudly or rudely, or to dominate discussions.
  • Difficulty with reading comprehension. Relating words on paper to the ideas they represent may be challenging for children with a TBI.
  • Impairment of spatial reasoning. A TBI might make it more difficult to read maps, to recognize shapes, and to understand the relationship of objects to each other.
  • Impairment of abstract reasoning. People with a TBI often find it difficult to make logical connections, to sort information into categories, to set priorities, to solve problems, and to draw conclusions.

Those consequences of a TBI may hinder school performance and diminished academic skills. If those issues are not properly understood, children who experience a TBI may be labeled as "slow" thinkers, as troublemakers, and as suffering from an attention deficit disorder.

Learning disabilities associated with a TBI differ from other learning disabilities. Different strategies are required to help children with a TBI learn in school. The traditional tools used to assess the performance of children who have other forms of learning disabilities may not be productive when applied to children who suffer from a TBI.

Learning disabilities are especially pronounced in children who experienced severe or moderate brain injuries. However, younger children with a mild brain injury may show symptoms of a learning disability. While the degree to which those symptoms will resolve over time is unpredictable, even a mild TBI in a child under the age of 3 creates a significant risk of a learning disability and other cognitive and behavioral problems later in the child's life.

How Lawsuits Can Help

Children who suffer from a learning disability as the result of a TBI have special needs. Some children may need home schooling until their recovery is sufficiently advanced to allow them to attend school. Other children may need tutoring or specialized assistance. Schools have an obligation to accommodate children with learning disabilities but they can rarely do as much as concerned parents would like.

When a child's brain injury is caused by the negligence of another person — a driver who causes a collision, a coach who returns a player to the field after a concussion — a personal injury lawyer can help the child obtain compensation that will improve the quality of his or her life. No amount of money can restore a damaged brain, but compensation can help parents afford specialized treatment and assistance that their family health insurance may not cover.

An award of damages is intended to make an injury victim whole. In the case of a TBI, that may include:

  • The expense of advanced neuropsychological testing.
  • Continuing medical treatment and therapy.
  • Caregiver assistance or specialized nursing care.
  • Toys, games, computers, and equipment that assist the learning process.
  • Private tutoring and other educational assistance.
  • The child's loss of future income or earning capacity due to a learning disability.
  • The child's anxiety and emotional suffering.
  • The child's loss of enjoyment of life.
  • Assistance the child may need after entering adulthood to accommodate the disability.

In some cases, medical experts can agree that a child has reached a healing plateau, making a claim for compensation ripe for settlement. In other cases, it may be necessary to delay settlement until the full impact of the brain injury, including any learning ability it causes, becomes clear. An experienced personal injury lawyer can evaluate a pediatric TBI claim and advise families how to maximize the compensation that their child needs to face the obstacles that he or she will encounter in all stages of life.