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Karen Czapanskiy, JD


University of Maryland, Francis King Carey School of Law

How Does Multiple Concussion Injury Affect a Career and What Symptoms Prove Damages?

 

Multiple concussion injury can lead to loss of function or quality of life and can restrict or end a career. See: Attorney's Medical Advisor §36:60, Concussion-Cumulative effects of multiple concussions.

 

The comment below recounts the experience of a law professor who suffered from multiple concussion injury. She explains how the injury occurred, her physical and mental symptoms, and some of the elements of her damages. Counsel can learn from this account what patients experience and can gain insights into factors to consider when handling this type of litigation.

 

Two and a half years ago, I had a concussion as a result of a horseback riding incident; I was thrown off my horse. Then, almost two years later, I was the victim of a car crash that totaled my car. It spun the car about 90 degrees around and into a curb. Apparently the other driver was going at a pretty high rate of speed for a city street as she went through a red light and hit my car on the driver side.

 

The first concussion was a very serious one. It landed me in the hospital, not immediately after it happened but a week later, with a pretty serious after-effect, and I was in the hospital for about a week. Following that, I had almost a full year of cognitive problems, such as memory problems, concentration problems, and word retrieval problems. I couldn’t concentrate for any length of time or, at the beginning, remember very much from day to day. 

 

I was teaching a pretty heavy course load at the time of the first concussion and I could not finish one of the courses. With huge difficulty, I managed to finish the other course for a very small number of students. But the course where I had to stand up in front of a room of 75 people was impossible. I couldn’t prepare fully, and I couldn’t stay focused for two hours of class time. I also couldn’t safely drive because my level of focus was so distorted; I had to start taking the train. That lasted for the rest of the semester, two and half months. In the spring semester, I had one course to teach and I managed to struggle through it, although it was really very difficult. To this day, I still have very little memory about the spring semester.

 

By the end of the spring semester, which was seven months or so after the accident, I was at the point where I could grade my exams reasonably well, remember by the 75th one more or less what I had given an A to on the first one. I had a rubric and lots of help in my written notes about what was a fair grade for an exam, but my memory was helping me a lot more by the end of the semester than it could at the beginning. I had much better capacity to concentrate, but it was still another several months after that before I felt like my brain was back completely and I didn’t have any problems with word retrieval, memory, concentration and duration of concentration. By a year after the accident, , I felt I was pretty much back to 100% of cognitive level. During the next year, I produced a couple of articles I was happy with and the teaching was going well. Then I had the car accident.

 

In the car accident, my head didn’t actually hit anything. The spinning of the car, however, apparently results in the brain hitting the inside of the skull, even when the outside of the skull doesn’t encounter any physical trauma. At first, I didn’t realize I had cognitive problems. It took about a month before I realized that I was misspeaking a lot, wasn’t remembering well, wasn’t focusing, and wasn’t concentrating well. At that point, I went to a neurologist who told me I was experiencing pretty classic post-concussive syndrome from the car accident. He predicted a two month recovery. He thought at that point (early November) that by the end of the year I would pretty much be where I had been cognitively, or at least very close.

 

But in January, I was still exhausted and unable to maintain my focus when reading, thinking and writing. I couldn’t stay engaged in a cognitive path for more than maybe 25 minutes, at the most. 15 to 20 minutes was more common. I was napping every afternoon and still sleeping 8 -10 hours many nights. Other nights my sleep was disrupted. Cognitively, I was having problems.

 

The neurologist told me then that he hadn’t really fully taken into account at our first meeting that this was my second injury in two years. The first one was very severe, and it took a year to recover. The second injury was not as severe itself, but because it was relatively close in time to a severe one, it would probably be six months from the accident before I would really feel like myself again.

 

Six months have passed now, and I am feeling closer to normal. It was not a smooth trajectory of improvement, but since February I have felt pretty steady improvement, which the neurologist thinks will continue until I’m feeling much closer to 100%. Once you’re at the 85-95% level, the continuing improvement isn’t really itself noticeable; it just keeps happening at a very slow pace.

 

The symptoms are incredibly subtle. I think and teach for a living. When my thinking is disrupted and I can’t read, can’t focus, can’t remember what I’ve read, can’t use what I’ve read to make sense of an argument and create something new, which is my job, it’s very distressing. Even once I was no longer in physical pain from the accident and could trust myself to drive, there were still all these other symptoms to deal with. Another symptom that I’ve found surprising is that emotionally, both times, I was heavily affected by alternating periods of depression and a sense of fragility and anxiety that were completely out of sync with anything I was experiencing at that moment, but which would get far worse if I didn’t sleep well. The neurologist said this was typical, too.

 

When looking at damages that resulted from the injury, it’s easy to demonstrate the medical costs that have been involved, including direct medical costs, transportation, lost work time, etc. For a while after the accident, it felt like all I was doing was taking care of my body and my mind. I didn’t have the time or energy to do anything else, although, with considerable struggle, I managed to continue working almost half time.

 

When it comes to the professional damages, it can be difficult to assess costs suffered. In my kind of occupation, it’s very hard to figure out exactly how to arrive at a fair level of compensation.   Most law professors are supposed to teach, do service, and publish, and I have had a history of doing all three at pretty high levels of productivity. When my capacity to do some of the work declines, my employer and I have suffered a loss that may be somewhat difficult to measure.    For example, how do you measure the fact that my book has now been delayed at least a year? Academic books don’t make a lot of money, but they add to my professional reputation as well as to the stature of the law school. Now that it’s been delayed a year I’ve got less time in my career to produce the scholarship that I want to produce and have the effect on public policy that I’m hoping to have.

 


 

Karen Czapanskiy is the Francis & Harriet Iglehart Research Professor of Law at the University of Maryland School of Law. Since joining the faculty in 1983, Professor Czapanskiy has served as the reporter for the Maryland Joint Special Committee on Gender Bias in the Courts and as a Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Durban Westville. She was chair of the Section on Women in Legal Education of the AALS and helped to organize the Maryland/DC/Virginia Women Law Teachers Group and the FIP Legal Clinic.

 

Professor Czapanskiy is a member of the American Law Institute and the Prytanean Society. Her teaching and research interests include families raising disabled children, poverty law, and family law. Professor Czapanskiy's scholarly research since 2005 has focused on the need to change law and practices as they affect families raising disabled children. Before that, she worked as an advocate and a scholar on issues arising out of welfare reform. She is a co-author of the book Family Law: Cases, Text, Problems (LexisNexis, 5th ed. 2010) and has published numerous articles.

 

Professor Czapanskiy has been an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, taught at the University of Hawaii Law School, the Washington College of Law of American University, the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University and the West Virginia University College of Law, where she was appointed to the Meier Chair. She clerked for the Honorable Rita C. Davidson, Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

 

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