Brain injury or brain damage is physical damage to the brain that can be caused by a strike or blow to the head or when the brain is deprived of oxygen for a period of time. The former is considered a traumatic brain injury, while the latter is an acquired brain injury. Either type can occur in workers as a result of accidents in the maritime industry and can range from mild to severe and debilitating.
If you suffered a brain injury or brain damage while working in a maritime job, on a ship, in a port or shipyard, or on an offshore facility, you may now be facing permanent disability and an inability to work. You have rights as a maritime worker and those rights include seeking compensation for the medical and other expenses you face as well as for pain and suffering. An experienced advocate can help you figure out what your rights are and how you can access compensation.
What is Brain Injury?
A brain injury is anything that causes brain damage. There are several types of brain injuries that a person may suffer with, but all are categorized as either traumatic or acquired. Sometimes traumatic injuries may be considered acquired because this term also refers to any brain injury that occurs after birth and not as a result of genetics or birth trauma. However, in adults generally, traumatic refers to injuries caused by an external force, such as something striking the head, while acquired refers to injury caused by lack of oxygen getting to the brain.
Types of Brain Injury
All brain injuries in adults are categorized as traumatic or acquired. A traumatic brain injury is any damage to the brain or disruption in the function of the brain that is caused by any external force or object striking the head. Traumatic brain injuries can further be broken down into several subtypes:
- Contusion. A contusion is essentially a bruise, when a strike to the head bruises the brain and causes bleeding. Surgery may be required.
- Concussion. A concussion results from the shaking of the brain inside the skull and can be caused by direct strikes, whiplash, or shaking. This is the most common type of traumatic brain injury and it may be mild or more severe, causing loss of consciousness, a dazed feeling, confusion, or other symptoms.
- Diffuse axonal. This is caused by shaking or a strong rotation of the neck and head. Violent accidents can cause this and it results in tearing of nerves and brain tissue.
- Coup-contrecoup. This is a pair of contusions, one at the site of impact on the head and one on the opposite side of the brain, caused by brain striking the other side of the skull.
- Penetration. A penetration injury occurs when some object, such as a bullet or knife, penetrates the skull and brain. This can cause brain injuries ranging from mild to severe or death.
Acquired brain injuries can be classified as two types: anoxic and hypoxic. An anoxic injury results from complete lack of oxygen to the brain. Hypoxic injuries result from the oxygen supply being reduced but not completely cut off to the brain. The extent of damage caused by these injuries depends on the duration of oxygen loss or reduction.
Symptoms of Brain Injuries and Brain Damage
The symptoms of a brain injury depend on the type of injury, the severity of the injury, and the part of the brain that has been damaged. For mild injuries, there may be no immediate or obvious symptoms, but there may still be damage. This is why it is important to seek treatment immediately after loss of oxygen or any kind of strike to the head or violent accident that causes whiplash or twisting of the neck. Some of the symptoms that may result from a mild brain injury include:
- Loss of consciousness.
- Confusion, disorientation, or a dazed feeling.
- A headache.
- Drowsiness and fatigue.
- Loss of balance, dizziness.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than usual.
- Loss of memory.
- Mood swings.
- Depression or anxiety.
- Blurred vision.
- Ringing in the ears.
- Changes in smell.
- A bad taste in the mouth.
- Light and sound sensitivity.
A moderate to severe brain injury may include any of the above symptoms, but also:
- A bad headache or one that gets worse.
- Dilated pupils.
- Clear fluid running from the ears or nose.
- Numbness or weakness in toes and fingers.
- Loss of coordination.
- Very serious confusion.
- Agitation, aggression, and other unusual behaviors.
- Slurred speech.
Treating Brain Damage and Injury
How a brain injury is treated depends on many factors, including the severity, the symptoms, and the overall health of the patient. For a mild injury, such as a mild concussion, there is usually no treatment other than rest and time. For something more severe, emergency treatment is usually needed. This may include supplemental oxygen, diuretics to reduce fluid in the brain, anti-seizure medications, and even drugs to induce a coma. Surgery may be required to relieve pressure on the brain or to repair fractures or wounds from penetration injuries.
The repercussions of a moderate to severe brain injury can be serious and long-lasting. A person may need ongoing rehabilitation if the injury leads to nerve damage, paralysis, and other physical complications, cognitive and intellectual problems, communication problems, or emotional and behavioral issues. Depending on the severity of the injury, brain damage can cause issues like these that never completely go away.
Causes of Brain Injury in Maritime Settings
Brain injuries can occur in maritime jobs in a variety of ways. Acquired brain injuries, for instance, may occur when a worker falls overboard and oxygen is cut off to the brain. The person may be rescued and resuscitated, but depending on how long the brain was deprived of oxygen, the damage may be non-existent, mild, or severe.
Also common in maritime jobs are strikes to the head. A moving ship can cause objects to fall or workers to fall and hit their heads. Gear, cargo, or equipment parts may all fall or shift on a ship and hit a worker in the head. In a port there are similar risks. Rough weather on a ship can increase the risk of items shifting and striking workers. A deck or other surface that is not slip-proof or that is cluttered with gear can also pose trip hazards that can lead to falls and head strikes.
Brain Damage and Maritime Rights
If you suffer a brain injury while on the job on a ship, offshore, or in a port, there are laws in place to ensure that you will be compensated. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act both provide workers compensation for injuries like this sustained while on the job. The Jones Act allows for seamen to seek compensation from employers and their insurance companies if liability for the accident can be shown.
There are many ways in which an employer may be found to be negligent when a seaman is the victim of an accident that causes a brain injury. For instance, if workers were not trained properly in how to secure cargo and it shifts and strikes someone in the head, that liability lies with the employer who had a responsibility for training and safety. Other areas of liability may include faulty equipment, machinery that has not been maintained, lack of safety gear, or even too-long work shifts that lead to fatigue and mistakes that cause accidents.
If you suffer a brain injury on the job, get medical help as soon as possible and file an incident report with as much detail and witness observation as possible. Then contact a maritime lawyer to help you figure out if you have a case against your employer or if you are eligible for workers’ compensation under one of the maritime laws.