Sleep Better at Night With Answers to Your Top Questions on Virginia Brain Injury Claims
Experiencing something as traumatic as an accident in Chesterfield County can leave your head spinning with questions and uncertainty. Get the answers you need fast in this FAQ series from Richmond brain injury attorney Kevin Mottley.
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What is the difference between a mild, moderate, and severe brain injury?
Suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in an accident—or helping a loved one who has been injured—is a frightening and confusing experience. At the time of the injury, doctors often aren’t able to tell you much about the prognosis for recovery. However, you should be given information about the severity of the injury, which will give you an idea of what the road ahead will look like.
Three Levels of Traumatic Brain Injury
Whether you or your loved one has sustained a concussion, contusion, penetrating injury, or diffuse axonal injury, your injury could be considered mild, moderate, or severe. Based on the symptoms and expected recovery, brain injuries are generally rated as follows:
- Mild. When there is no—or a very brief—loss of consciousness and symptoms such as confusion, headaches, and dizziness are brief and minor, the brain injury is considered mild. Mild TBIs are often diagnosed based on the fact that there was an impact to the head rather than on scans showing brain damage or permanent impairments.
- Moderate. If the person was unconscious for anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, the TBI would be considered moderate. Long-term cognitive, physical, and emotional effects are possible with a moderate TBI. These impairments could last for several months, and some changes may be permanent.
- Severe. A severe TBI is often permanently debilitating or fatal. An injury that crushes or penetrates the skull and damages brain tissue is considered severe because there is no way to repair the damage. If they survive, victims of a severe TBI cannot expect to return to the life they had before the accident.
No matter what level of brain injury you or your loved one has suffered, if another person’s negligence caused the car accident, slip and fall, or workplace accident that lead to your TBI, you need an attorney to help you fight for damages. Contact the Mottley Law Firm to learn more about our traumatic brain injury legal services.
What is the goal of rehabilitation after a brain injury?
When you were diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), your doctor said that you would need intensive rehabilitation to regain some of the motor and cognitive function you lost. If your injury happened in an accident caused by a negligent party, the costs of rehab might be recovered in a personal injury claim against the at-fault party. Learn more about what rehab for a TBI may consist of and how our Richmond personal injury team can help you get the compensation you deserve.
Rehabilitation After a Virginia TBI
Whether you sustained a traumatic brain injury in a car crash, slip and fall, or workplace accident, you have a long road ahead to recovery. A big part of your treatment will likely be working with therapists on a rehabilitation program. The goal of your program is to overcome the limitations caused by the injury and to regain as much of your former functioning as possible. Depending on how the TBI has affected you, your rehab might consist of any of the following:
- Neuromuscular brain rehabilitation. Physical therapists will work with you on the motor control and mobility issues caused by the brain injury.
- Cognitive rehabilitation. Improving mental processing, memory, mood, and emotional challenges are the goals of this type of therapy.
- Speech and language therapy. If your brain injury has affected your ability to communicate, working with a speech and language therapist can help you regain skills and learn other ways to communicate.
- Occupational rehabilitation. If your TBI prevents you from returning to the type of work you did before the accident, you may undergo occupational therapy to learn new ways to complete tasks or to learn a new trade altogether.
- Support groups and counseling. People with TBI may experience depression and have other emotional struggles. Group and individual counseling can ease some of the suffering.
Your doctor will recommend the right combination of these rehabilitation services for your specific case.
Worried About Paying for Rehab? Our Richmond Attorney May Be Able to Help!
If a careless driver, negligent property owner, or non-compliant employer contributed to the cause of the accident that left you struggling with a TBI, you might be able to sue for compensation to cover your losses. Our brain injury lawyer can fight the complex battle against an insurance company and the people who caused the injury while you focus on recovering from the injury. Contact us to learn more about the kinds of personal injury cases we take at the Mottley Law Firm.
If I told the EMT that I did not lose consciousness, do I have a case for my traumatic brain injury?
One of the standard questions a first responder (emergency medical technician, or "EMT") will ask a person who has been involved in an accident is whether they "lost consciousness." Depending on the answer, the EMT will put that information in their report. Then, when the injured person gets to the emergency room, they will again be asked whether they lost consciousness. Once again, the answer given by the patient will be put in the emergency room report.
This raises the question: "What if I told the EMT and the emergency room doctor that I did not lose consciousness? Does that mean I have no case for a traumatic brain injury from the accident?"
No, it does not.
A person who loses consciousness is not aware of having lost it. Therefore, they're not able to accurately respond to that question. Only if a third person was there observing what happened (rarely the case) can loss of consciousness be accurately determined by simply asking the question. Loss of consciousness means that the person has a gap in their ability to recall a period of time. That lost period of time may be only a few seconds. If a person responds to a question about loss of consciousness by saying that they "don't know" or "no," that fact does not medically rule out the possibility that a concussion occurred. Determining whether a concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury, occurred, requires the medical provider to dig a little deeper into investigating what happened.
Another factor that plays into this issue is that emergency personnel, including EMTs and emergency room doctors, are typically more focused on other problems with a patient than they are with investigating whether a concussion occurred. To illustrate the point, let's assume a patient was in a car accident in which they broke their leg and suffered a nasty gash on their hand, which is bleeding profusely. When they arrive at the emergency room, they are fully awake and oriented. They are as conscious as a person can be. But they're bleeding and in a lot of pain. The ER doctors are going to focus, first, on stopping the profusely bleeding hand and, second, on getting down to fixing that broken leg. They'll most certainly ask whether a loss of consciousness occurred. The answer will in most cases be "I don't know" or "no," at which point the medical personnel will check that box off in their report and move on.
This sort of dynamic is why a recent study showed that more than 50% of mild traumatic brain injuries (concussions) are not diagnosed in the emergency room.
Here at The Mottley Law Firm, most of the traumatic brain injury cases we handle involve a person who either responded "no" or "I don't know" to the question, "did you lose consciousness." That is the fact pattern we see most of the time in mild TBI cases.
If you or a loved one have suffered a mild traumatic brain injury or concussion due to some sort of accident or mishap, feel free to contact us about the matter. We focus a significant portion of our practice on helping people in this position with their legal needs.
What is post-concussion syndrome?
Post-concussion syndrome, or postconcussive syndrome as it is sometimes referred to ("PCS"), is a diagnostic label applied to a set of symptoms that sometimes arise following a concussion. These symptoms may last days, weeks or months, but a diagnosis of PCS is usually not made until several months following an injury. The symptoms are the same as those for a mild traumatic brain injury ("TBI"). They include headache, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and emotional and behavioral changes.
Who can bring a lawsuit for a wrongful death?
In Virginia, as elsewhere, a lawsuit may be filed against a person (including a company) whose negligence, recklessness, or intentional conduct caused someone else to die. These are called "wrongful death" suits. Under Virginia law, all wrongful death cases must "be brought by and in the name of the personal representative of such deceased person." A personal representative is a person, such as an executor, executrix, or administrator of a person's estate who is qualified by the clerk of the circuit court to represent the deceased person and his or her estate. One of the powers of a personal representative is the power to sue. Virginia has enacted statutes that explain who may qualify as a personal representative. Personal representatives may be designated in a person's will. If no will exists or if the executor named in the will fails or refuses to qualify, then the statute gives priority to others who may want to be the personal representative. Qualifying as a personal representative is fairly easy and the people working in the clerk's offices in Virginia are very helpful in answering questions on these topics.
What does "contributory negligence" mean and why is that important in a Virginia brain injury case?
In another Frequently Asked Question, I explained the meaning of "negligence" and why it is important in Virginia brain injury cases and all other personal injury cases in Virginia. "Contributory negligence" means the same thing as "negligence." The only difference is that, when lawyers speak of contributory negligence, we are referring to any negligence committed by the injured person (the plaintiff) that "contributed" to the injury. Hence, the word "contributory" is inserted in front of "negligence."
Why is this distinction important? It is important because of the common law in Virginia. Virginia is one of only two states (I believe) that still adheres to the old rule that, if an injured person's own negligence contributed to his or her own injury, then the person is completely barred from recovering compensation from the defendant. So, for example, if a defendant store was negligent in maintaining its store by leaving a tripping hazard in a walk way, a person injured by that negligence would be completely barred from recovering money from the defendant if the injured person was also negligent in failing to watch where they were walking. This is a pretty harsh rule, particularly in cases in which the injured person was only slightly negligent. That, unfortunately, does not matter. Most other states adhere to some sort of "comparative" negligence rule. In such states, the jury can take into consideration the degree of negligence attributable to each party and take that into consideration when awarding compensation to the injured person.
What does the word "negligence" mean in a Virginia brain injury or other serious injury case?
The word "negligence" is very important in any personal injury case. That is because, for the plaintiff to win a personal injury case, it is usually necessary for the plaintiff to prove that the defendant was negligent and that the defendant's negligence caused the plaintiff's injury. In Virginia, as elsewhere, "negligence" means a failure to exercise what is called "ordinary care." Ordinary care is that degree of care that a "reasonable person" would exercise under the same conditions and circumstances existing at the time and place of the incident in question. I know this sounds like a lot of legal gibberish. But what I've just written is pretty much what a jury is told about the law before the jury is sent back to the jury room to decide the case. In fact, the actual jury instruction read to juries every day in Virginia is as follows: "Negligence is the failure to use ordinary care. Ordinary care is the care a reasonable person would have used under the circumstances of this case." So there you have it. What does it mean, exactly? When thinking about the "reasonable person" in layman's terms, I tell people to imagine a slightly nerdy fellow with a pocket protector who is very careful about things as he goes about his daily activities. Is the speed limit 55 miles per hour? The so-called "reasonable person" goes 55 mph or below, but not so far below to be "unreasonable." (We've all seen people driving 35 in a 55 zone, which I would submit is unreasonable and negligent.) Is there something slippery on a floor in a grocery store? The reasonable person who works at the store looks for that sort of condition and, when he finds it, he cleans it up or puts down an effective warning sign. You get the picture.
What is Fraud?
In Virginia, a person who has been defrauded may have a civil claim for damages against the person who defrauded the plaintiff. A fraud is, in essence, a lie that has been relied upon by someone and, as a result, has caused damage to the person who relied on the truthfulness of the lie. In legal jargon, an "actual fraud" is defined as a misrepresentation of a material fact, knowingly and intentionally made, with the intent to mislead another person, which that person relied upon with the result that he or she (or it, in the case of a company) was damaged by it. Frauds come in two different types: actual fraud and constructive fraud. Constructive fraud happens when someone says something that is not truthful, but the falsehood was made "innocently" and "negligently," as opposed to "knowingly and intentionally." Fraud cases are very complicated and all sorts of nuances to the above definitions exist under the law. Therefore, if you suspect you have been the victim of a fraud, you should consult with a Virginia attorney about the matter so that you can understand whether you should seek relief in court.
What is a business conspiracy?
Virginia is unique in that it has a criminal statute making it illegal for two or more persons to conspire to harm another person in his or her trade, business, or profession. Although the statute is a criminal statute, it gives rise to a civil lawsuit for treble damages, and I suspect that the statute is actually used more often in civil cases than in criminal cases. So, what is required to show a violation of the business conspiracy statute in Virginia?
First, it must be shown that the defendant and at least one other person acted in concert, agreed, associated, mutually undertook, or combined together for some purpose. Second, it must be shown that the conspirators intentionally, purposefully, and without lawful justification injured the plaintiff in his, her, or its reputation, trade, business, or profession. Third, it must be shown that the plaintiff actually suffered damage as a result of the conspiracy. If each of these elements is shown, the plaintiff may be entitled to recover treble damages plus attorney's fees as a result of the conspiracy.
Business conspiracy law is incredibly confusing in Virginia. The foregoing definition is a generalization. For you to understand whether you may have experienced a business conspiracy that may be redressed in court, you really need to have the matter evaluated by a Virginia attorney.
What is tortious interference with contract or business expectancy?
In our business litigation practice, we have represented clients (both individual business clients and business organizations) who have been the victim of a wrong called "tortious interference." What is tortious interference, exactly?
First, let's get the name right. It is "tortious" interference. It is not "tortuous" interference. (These cases can indeed be "tortuous" to handle. But that is not the name of the cause of action. And if you see a lawyer writing about this subject matter using the word "tortuous," that's a sign that they don't know what they're talking about.)
When Does a Claim for Tortious Interference Happen?
In Virginia, a claim for tortious interference arises when (a) there is a valid contract or business expectancy between the plaintiff and a party other than the defendant, (b) someone who is not a party to the contract (the defendant) has knowledge of its existence, (c) the defendant intentionally causes the contract to be broken (breached) by one of the parties to the contract (not the plaintiff) and (d) the breach of contract causes damages to the plaintiff. If each of these elements are present, tortious interference with the contract case may exist. If the contract in question was "terminable at will," meaning that either party had the legal right to break it, a case may still exist. However, an additional showing must be made by the plaintiff that the defendant used "improper methods" to interfere with the contract that was terminable at will. This same additional requirement applies to legal relationships that are in the category of business "expectancies" but that do not rise to the level of a contract. Business expectancies may also be interfered with in a way that leads to a liability for damages. But improper methods of interference must be shown.
After reading that, you may be wondering what all of this means. After all, these elements that I just outlined are filled with a lot of legalese.
An Example To Illustrate Tortious Interference
Let's say, for example, that a hypothetical food distributor called Agriculture Company has a contract to deliver vegetables for a five-year term to a very popular restaurant and bar in town called Bunny's Bar & Grill. The contract is not terminable at will. In other words, it cannot be unilaterally terminated by either party during the five-year term without that party being in breach of (i.e., in violation of) the contract.
Next, let's say that a third hypothetical company, Carrott Company, is in the same business as Agriculture Company but, unlike Agriculture Co., Carrott Co. specializes in exotic heirloom carrots. As a competitor of Agriculture Co., Carrott Co. wishes that it had the contract with Bunny's. After all, Carrott Co. is convinced that its carrots are far superior to the bland carrots sold by Agriculture Co. So it feels justified in trying to take Bunny's business away from Agriculture Co.
One day, Carrott Co.'s CEO, Charley Crook, comes up with a plan for stealing the business away from Agriculture Co. and of convincing Bunny's that it should break the agreement with Agriculture Co. As part of this plan, Mr. Crook calls Bunny's owner (Bunny Burgess), and tells Ms. Burgess that Agriculture Co. has had a problem with outbreaks of salmonella in its food supplies. This, of course, is not true. Mr. Crook says these are just "rumors," but he stresses that he is well connected in the food supply industry, and he just wanted to let Ms. Burgess know about the rumors out of concern for her business and customers. Mr. Crook then goes onto a food supply services blog site, creates an anonymous account, and posts a blog post alluding to the salmonella rumors at Agriculture Co. Shortly after her communication with Mr. Crook, Bunny's terminates its contract with Agriculture Co. As a result of this, Agriculture Co. loses tens of thousands of dollars in revenue that it anticipated making from its sales to Bunny's in the coming years.
In the foregoing example, Agriculture Co. has a tortious interference with contract claim against Carrott Co. because:
- There was a contract between Agriculture Co. and Bunny's that was not terminable at will;
- Carrott Co. knew about the contract;
- Carrott Co. intentionally took actions to interfere with the contract, which actions caused the contract to be broken; and
- Agriculture Co. suffered damages in the form of lost revenues from the breach.
It should be pointed out that Agriculture also has a case for "breach of contract" against Bunny's because the contract was not terminable at will and Bunny's unilaterally terminated it.
Another point to observe from this example is that the methods used by Mr. Crook and Carrott Co. were not just intentional. They were improper. They were defamatory. The CEO of Carrott, Mr. Crook, intentionally spread lies about Agriculture Co. for the purpose of harming its business and its reputation. Therefore, even if the relationship between Agriculture and Bunny's was not to the level of being a contract not terminable at will (i.e., it was terminable at will or was only a "business expectancy"), Agriculture would likely still have a case for tortious interference against Carrott Co., albeit a case for interference with a business expectancy rather than a contract.
As explained in one case from the Supreme Court of Virginia that is often cited, Duggin v. Adams, "[m]ethods of interference considered improper are those means that are illegal or independently tortious, such as violations of statutes, regulations, or recognized common-law rules. Improper methods may include violence, threats or intimidation, bribery, unfounded litigation, fraud, misrepresentation or deceit, defamation, duress, undue influence, misuse of inside or confidential information, or breach of a fiduciary relationship."
Non-compete Agreement Could Be Used in a Claim for Tortious Interference
Tortious interference can arise in all sorts of situations and sour business dealings. For example, it often arises in cases where one company hires a valued employee away from another company. If the employee had a non-compete agreement with the first company that will be violated by the employee changing jobs, and the second company knew about that non-compete agreement, the old company may have a claim against the second company for tortiously interfering with its contractual relationship with its employee.
For a jury to sort through these issues in a court, the court provides the jury with a set of instructions, called "jury instructions", to help them decide the issue. The jury instructions explain the issues in the case and serve as an outline for the jury to follow when making its decision. Here is the published civil jury instruction in Virginia state court for tortious interference:
Wrongful or Tortious Interference with Contract Not Terminable at Will: Finding Instruction
You shall find your verdict for the plaintiff if he proved by the greater weight of the evidence:
(1) that there was a business expectancy or a valid contractual relationship between the plaintiff and (name of third party); and
(2) that the defendant knew of this business expectancy or contractual relationship; and
(3) that the defendant intentionally interfered and caused the [breach; termination] of the expectancy or relationship; and
(4) that the plaintiff was damaged by the [breach; termination].
You shall find your verdict for the defendant if: (1) the plaintiff failed to prove any one or more of these elements; or (2) the defendant proved by the greater weight of the evidence that the interference was justified, privileged, or not improper.
Business Dispute Attorneys Serving Richmond, Virginia and Beyond
If you are an individual who feels that you, or a business you own, has been harmed by another person or company who has wrongfully interfered in your business, please give our Richmond Business Litigators a call to discuss your matter. We have a long track record of advising business people and businesses about issues relating to tortious interference.