Doctors have become more aware of the risks and effects of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in recent years. Whether an injury occurs on the football field or in a car accident on the highway, a brain injury can pose serious health risks and lead to lifelong disabilities.

Brain stem injuries are in a special class. Because of the critical role that the brain stem plays in the human body, an injury to this region can leave a person comatose, unable to breathe without assistance, or dead.

Here are some of the most important facts about brain stem injuries and how you can recover compensation when brain stem injuries occur.

The Causes of Brain Stem Injuries

The causes of brain injuries, including injuries to the brain stem, are usually divided into three broad categories.

These are:

  • Penetrating Trauma: The brain stem can be injured by an object that penetrates the skull and enters the brain stem. For example, a workplace accident at a construction site could drive a nail into the victim’s brain stem.
  • Non-Penetrating Trauma:  An injury to the brain stem can occur due to trauma that causes the brain to slam into the skull. Falls, car accidents, fights, and explosions can cause a brain injury through a concussion.
  • Lack of Oxygen:  A part of the brain can die when it is deprived of oxygen. For example, drowning or massive blood loss can cause a brain injury.

The situations that can lead to brain stem injury are endless. Anything from boating accidents and gas pipe explosions to ordinary slip-and-falls and car accidents can result in a brain stem injury if the victim is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Effects of Brain Stem Injuries

The brain does not heal in the same way that other tissue can heal. However, the brain can find some ways to rewire itself to overcome a loss of function. Furthermore, patients can often recover from brain injuries caused by temporary conditions, like swelling or pressure on the brain.

In many cases, however, brain injuries may be permanent or involve a long recovery process.

The Role of the Brain Stem

The brain stem connects the cerebrum to the spinal cord. As a result, the brain stem regulates and controls many of the nerve signals that pass from the brain to the rest of the body.

Some of the functions that are controlled or regulated by the brain stem include:

  • Sensory Function:  The nerves that convey tactile, visual, and auditory information to the brain pass through the brain stem.
  • Motor Function:  The brain stem regulates the nerves that control the limbs.
  • Digestion:  The brain stem controls swallowing, in addition to the nerves that control the jaws and tongue.
  • Speech:  The nerves that control the larynx and pharynx pass through the brain stem.
  • Involuntary Functions:  Nerves that control heartbeat, blood pressure, and breathing traverse the brain stem.

The brain stem includes three parts. 

The medulla oblongata is the lowest part of the brain stem and controls the heart and lungs. 

The pons rests above the medulla oblongata and controls involuntary functions, as well as digestion and sensory functions. 

The midbrain is the highest portion of the brain stem and controls motor functions, sleep, temperature, vision, and hearing.

Effects of Injuries to the Brain Stem

An injury to the brain stem can be fatal if the medulla oblongata or pons are damaged. An injury to these areas may cause circulation or respiration to stop. Non-fatal brain stem injuries may result in a coma, paralysis, loss of speech, or loss of the senses.

Injuries to the brain stem can become permanent if the brain stem is penetrated by an object. Permanent brain stem injuries can also occur when parts of the brain stem die due to a non-penetrating trauma or a lack of oxygen.

Temporary brain stem injuries can occur from compression of the brain stem. Compression can be caused by fluid built up in the skull or swelling of the brain. In either case, the patient may recover from the brain stem injury once the compression is relieved.

Unfortunately, injuries to the brain stem cannot be repaired with medications or surgery. Instead, physical therapy and speech therapy may help the brain to rewire itself and recover some of its function. In many cases, however, brain stem injuries cause permanent disability.

The prognosis for brain stem injuries is usually bleak. A person with a brain stem injury has a higher risk of death. Those who survive usually require long-term hospitalization, constant care, or ongoing therapy.

Damages Recoverable for Brain Stem Injuries

Brain stem injuries sometimes result from the actions of another party. Whether those actions were negligent or intentional, the victim may be entitled to recover compensation from the responsible party.

For example, if a brain stem injury results from a car accident caused by a drunk driver, the injured person could be entitled to a settlement or damages awarded from the drunk driver and their insurance company.

These damages may be calculated to cover a few different kinds of costs, including:

  • Medical Expenses:  Expenses required for treatment of the brain stem injury, including out-of-pocket medical expenses, physical therapy, long-term care, and prescription drugs
  • Consequential Damages:  Expenses incurred due to the injury, such as the costs associated with modifying the injured person’s home to accommodate a permanent disability
  • Lost Earnings:  Both present and future earnings could be included in the damages if the brain stem injury causes permanent disability.
  • Pain and Suffering:  A brain stem injury can result in substantial pain and loss in quality of life. For example, the mental anguish of being permanently paralyzed could justify damages for pain and suffering.
  • Loss of Consortium:  When a brain stem injury causes paralysis, the damages could include compensation for loss of sexual function.
  • Wrongful Death:  If a brain stem injury causes death, the victim’s survivors can recover damages for the pecuniary losses due to the premature death.

To persuade an insurance company or a judge of the value of the damages due, the victim will need to provide copies of records, such as medical bills, bank statements, and pay stubs.

Fair Compensation for Brain Stem Injuries

Since brain stem injuries will likely cause lifelong disability, an insurance claim or lawsuit may be the only way to gather the resources necessary for a lifetime of treatment. By documenting the losses and expenses, a victim is more likely to receive fair compensation.