| Read Time: 6 minutes

Any accident that causes trauma to the brain is problematic. Even a minor concussion can result in lasting damage. Traumatic brain injuries can vary in severity, with catastrophic brain injuries being the most devastating.

It’s essential to get an answer to the question, what is a catastrophic brain injury? You need to understand the different types of brain injuries and what kinds of treatment and life changes will occur.

If someone you love suffered a brain injury in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, you may have legal grounds to bring a personal injury claim.

It’s crucial to speak with an experienced catastrophic brain injury attorney who can help you navigate the complicated personal injury claims process. At Gerling Law, we have over 50 years of experience helping thousands of injured clients collect the compensation they deserve.

What Is Considered a Catastrophic Brain Injury

What Is Considered a Brain Injury?

There are two main types of brain injuries—traumatic and non-traumatic. A traumatic brain injury is when an external force alters your brain’s function. It develops after some sort of trauma, like an auto accident. Not all blows to your head will cause a traumatic brain injury.

Traumatic brain injuries fall under the umbrella term of acquired brain injuries. This term refers to brain injuries that are not hereditary, genetic, degenerative, or caused by birth trauma. In addition to trauma, encephalitis, tumors, stroke, infectious diseases, and aneurysms are a few causes of acquired brain injury.   

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), traumatic brain injuries are a significant cause of disability and death in the United States. From 2006 to 2014, TBI-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths increased by 53%. Don’t ignore a brain injury—see a doctor right away and consider contacting a lawyer early on.

What Are Common Symptoms of Brain Injuries?

Recognizing the symptoms of mild and severe brain injuries is important. Catastrophic brain injury protocol differs from what you need to do if you have minor brain damage. 

Minor traumatic brain injury symptoms include:

  • Headache;
  • Fatigue or drowsiness;
  • No loss of consciousness, but being confused, dazed, or disoriented;
  • Difficulty sleeping;
  • Nausea or vomiting;
  • Loss of balance;
  • Dizziness;
  • Speech problems;
  • Sensitivity to sound or light;
  • Sensory issues, including blurry vision, changes to your ability to smell, ringing in the ears, or a bad taste;
  • Depression or anxiety;
  • Mood swings or mood changes; and
  • Concentration or memory problems.

Symptoms of moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries include:

  • Loss of consciousness lasting several minutes to hours;
  • Seizures or convulsions;
  • Repeated headaches or one that continues to worsen;
  • Dilation of one or both pupils;
  • Loss of coordination;
  • Inability to wake from sleep;
  • Continued nausea or vomiting;
  • Slurred speech;
  • Combativeness or agitation;
  • Severe confusion; or
  • Coma or another disorder of consciousness.

Severe brain injuries can leave victims with noticeable problems, including cognitive issues, emotional and behavioral changes, language issues, and sensory problems. Some victims are at a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other brain disorders later in life.

Contact a Brain Injury Lawyer

What Causes Catastrophic Brain Damage?

Numerous events and accidents can lead to catastrophic brain damage. Some of the most common causes of a major brain injury include the following.


Falling down from a ladder, off a bed, or down the stairs can easily result in catastrophic traumatic brain injury. The older you get, the more at risk you are for a devastating fall. Even tripping on an uneven sidewalk can result in falling and sustaining a head injury. 

Vehicle Collisions

Any type of vehicle-related collision—car, motorcycle, bicycle, pedestrian, or truck—can lead to a traumatic brain injury. You can develop a head injury from physically striking something or just the violent jolting motion.

Sports Injuries

Sports can be dangerous and leave participants with various injuries, including brain injuries. High-impact sports are the worst, including football, boxing, hockey, baseball, etc.


Violence can also lead to catastrophic brain injuries. Domestic violence, gunshot wounds, assaults, and child abuse are a few violent offenses that can leave someone with a brain injury. Shaken baby syndrome is also a concern in infants as any violent shaking can result in a brain injury.

Combat Injuries

Active duty military personnel are at a high risk for all types of injuries. Explosive blasts cause many traumatic brain injuries in military members. It’s not entirely understood, but experts believe the brain’s function is disrupted due to a pressure wave from the blast. Severe blows to the head from shrapnel or penetrating wounds can also result in brain injuries.

What Are the Major Types of Head Injuries?

It’s essential to understand the different types of head injuries that can lead to a traumatic brain injury. The following head injuries are the most common ones we see in personal injury matters.


When your head makes an impact with something hard, it can result in a concussion. Concussions are common in auto accidents due to the sudden acceleration and deceleration of the vehicle or when your brain hits the inside of your skull.

Concussions usually result in temporary injuries. However, some people sustain lasting injuries from concussions. In addition, someone like an athlete who has suffered multiple injuries could eventually have permanent damage.


A hematoma can occur in various parts of your body because it involves clotting or a collection of blood outside of your blood vessels. When you have a hematoma in your brain, it’s dire. You could lose consciousness or sustain permanent brain damage.


Edema is swelling and can happen anywhere in your body. When the swelling is in your brain, it’s even more dangerous. Your skull is not expandable and cannot accommodate the increased pressure from your brain hitting your skull.


Hemorrhaging refers to bleeding that’s uncontrolled. Uncontrolled bleeding in your brain can be intracerebral, which is in your brain tissue, or subarachnoid, which is bleeding around your brain. You may have headaches and vomiting, and the increased blood can cause pressure to build up in your brain.

Diffuse Axonal Injury

A diffuse axonal injury is one that doesn’t involve bleeding, but there is brain cell damage. The brain cells cannot function, and that can lead to additional damage. A diffuse axonal injury is one of the most severe brain injuries despite not being as visible as other types. Victims can suffer permanent brain damage or even death.

Skull Fracture

Although the skull is very hard, there is no marrow to absorb a blow, which means you are more likely to suffer brain damage.

Can You Recover from a Catastrophic Brain Injury?

Depending on the severity of the injury, recovery is possible in some cases. It can take a significant amount of time to recover from a severe head injury, and rehabilitation is almost always necessary. It’s impossible to determine the long-term outcome in the first few days after a severe brain injury.

It could take weeks or months before a doctor can determine whether someone will recover. While most people will regain consciousness at some point, some factors can make a recovery more challenging.

There are several stages of a brain injury that most people experience:

  • Coma: A coma is when someone is unconscious and unable to respond to any type of stimuli. Widespread damage to the brain can cause someone to slip into a coma. People often emerge from a coma in a few days or weeks or enter a vegetative state.
  • Vegetative state: This also involves widespread brain damage. The difference from a coma is that people may open their eyes, have reflex responses, and move a little, but they are unaware of their surroundings.
  • Minimally conscious state: When someone is in a minimally conscious state, they have severely altered consciousness, but there are signs of environmental awareness or self-awareness. 

Not everyone goes through all these stages or for the same duration. Some people might regain consciousness in a few days while others take months. Every traumatic brain injury is different, and victims recover at a different pace. Recovery doesn’t mean that someone will return to their pre-injury condition either. There could be permanent damage that affects various aspects of a brain injury victim’s life.

When someone experiences brain death, there is no chance of recovery. Brain death means there is no measurable activity in either the brain or brainstem. Brain death is not reversible. If the person is taken off life support, they will stop breathing and eventually suffer heart failure.

How a Brain Injury Attorney Can Help

If you or a loved one suffered a head injury, it’s crucial to get assistance from an experienced legal professional who understands the complex nature of brain injury claims.

At Gerling Law, our legal team has represented brain injury victims in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. When you retain us, we will thoroughly investigate your case and help you fight to hold the at-fault party accountable.

Drawing on more than 50 years of experience, we will evaluate your injury claim and discuss how it will affect your quality of life. You may need future medical care that must be factored into your settlement demand.

Without skilled legal representation, the other party’s insurance company is not likely to offer you an amount that is anywhere close to what your case is worth. Or they will try to settle early on to cap their exposure and financial risk. That’s why you want an attorney on your side who can protect your rights.

We will work closely with vocational specialists, economists, and life care plan specialists who can provide valuable input on your lifelong needs after a brain injury.

To learn more about how we can help you after a brain injury, contact Gerling Law today at 1-888-GERLING (866-681-3919) or fill out our free case review form. Remember, Go with Experience. Go with Gerling.®

Author Photo

Gayle Gerling Pettinga

Born and raised in Evansville, Gayle is a respected, experienced lawyer and a valued community leader. She graduated near the top of her class at Indiana University’s prestigious Maurer School of Law. She’s practiced law with one of the largest firms in Indianapolis as well as one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. And that means she knows how big law firms and big companies think and how they operate – and she will put that knowledge to work for you.

Gayle has received numerous awards and honors including Martindale-Hubbell — Peer Review Rated: AV®, American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys 10 Best Attorneys in Indiana for Exceptional and Outstanding Client Service, and YWCA Evansville 100 Years, 100 Women Honoree, 2011.

Rate this Post

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars
2 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5