Paper in the shape of head with puzzle piece of brain taken out

What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

Suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is something no one wants to imagine happening. Brain injuries can result in considerable residual deficits of brain function and can affect your cognitive abilities for a short or long time or permanently.

TBIs can wreak havoc on your ability to function in daily life and your ability to earn a living. Mood and personality changes can also result. 

Symptoms of TBIs

A TBI can lead to a wide range of debilitating symptoms, not limited to the following:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Impaired vision, hearing, or speech
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Decreased IQ (lower processing speed, decreased verbal and reasoning skills)
  • Emotional and mood changes
  • Personality changes
  • Decreased inhibitions (outbursts, inappropriate behaviour)
  • Severe headaches
  • Disrupted sleep

The severity of symptoms will depend on the cause of the brain injury, and the severity of the incident giving rise to it.

Severity of TBIs

TBIs are classified as:

  • Mild;
  • Moderate; or
  • Severe.

A mild brain injury can result where there is no or minimal loss of consciousness and a Glasgow Come Scale of 13-15. A moderate brain injury entails a of loss of consciousness from 20 minutes to 6 hours and a Glasgow Come Scale of 9 to 12. A severe brain injury entails a loss of consciousness of greater than 6 hours and a Glasgow Coma Scale of 3 to 8.

Causes of TBIs

The damage resulting from a TBI occurs from external stimulus. A few of the multiple causes of TBIs are: 

  • Blunt Force Trauma
  • Penetration of the Skull
  • Tumours
  • Hypoxia

Blunt Force Trauma

Blunt force to the head, such as from being knocked on the head with a heavy object, or assaulted, can cause a closed head injury leading to brain trauma. Although the skull is not penetrated in such an incident, the severity of a blow can cause the skull to press or knock against the brain, leading to damage to the brain, concussion, and in serious cases, a brain bleed. The physical damage tends to be diffuse and widespread.

Penetration of the Skull

Sometimes brain injuries are caused by direct penetration of the skull by a gunshot, knife, or any other acute blow to the head by a hard or sharp object (for example, a shattering car window). Such injuries can be even more severe than those resulting from blunt force trauma, with focal damage often being caused to one part of the brain. 


In a situation such as a car accident, it is possible to cause injury to the brain due to rapid deceleration. This is similar to blunt force trauma, in that the malleable brain “knocks” against the hard skull when the deceleration occurs. ‘


Tumours and infections may cause damage to the brain tissue by creating excess pressure, or when tumour tissue “invades” the healthy spaces in the brain. Although infections of the brain are rare, they are possible when the blood-brain barrier is broken, and a virus makes its way in it (for example, meningitis). 


Hypoxia is when the brain experiences a lack of oxygen flow. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including stroke. Hypoxia also occurs in some babies during childbirth.

TBIs and the Law

When a person suffers from a brain injury, there may be a person or company that is responsible for the injury that is insured for third party liability. For example, if your TBI resulted from a car accident, your lawsuit would be against the at-fault driver in the accident, who is protected by auto insurance.

If your brain injury resulted from a falling object in a retail store, the lawsuit would be against the company who owns or operates the store. The company is likely to be protected under commercial general liability insurance.

In a case where a child suffers a brain injury during childbirth, there may be circumstances where it is warranted to commence a lawsuit against the doctor and/or medical facility that delivered the baby. Physicians who are in private practice or work for hospitals are required to obtain medical malpractice liability insurance available through the Canadian Medical Protective Association.

In cases of assault, you may wish to sue your assailant personally, or the owner of the premises where you were assaulted (i.e., for failing to ensure a safe environment).

Legally Documenting Your Injuries

If you or a loved one has suffered from a brain injury, and you are even remotely considering commencing a lawsuit, seek the medical treatment you need and see a personal injury lawyer. It is imperative that you get help at an early stage and that you obtain the opinion of the appropriate medical professionals about the specific cause of the injury. 

An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to refer you to medical professionals who will be able to opine on the cause of your brain injury, the nature of the injury, and the effects that it will have on your day-to-day life, interpersonal relationships, and ability to continue working.

You will likely need to see your family doctor, a neurosurgeon and/or neurologist, and a neuropsychologist who can administer various tests to assess your cognitive function. Further, you may want to see a psychologist and/or psychiatrist who can assess the effects of your injury on your personality and mood, and whether the TBI has given rise to any concerns about long-lasting depression or other psychological illnesses.

Having these professional opinions will be necessary to prove the impact of your injury on your life and employment, if you commence a lawsuit. This will directly impact the amount of compensation you will be able to collect from an at-fault party.

A TBI Case in Practice

In Afonina v. Jansson, 2015 BCSC 10 (CanLII), the court reviewed the expert opinions of several psychiatrists and neurologists to ascertain the plaintiff’s injuries. The Plaintiff, who sustained a moderate traumatic brain injury during a serious motor vehicle accident, was entitled to $300,000 in damages for pain and suffering (known as non-pecuniary general damages), and $1,225,404.77 for loss of future earning capacity, special damages and cost of future care. 

Your Free Consultation is Available at Braithwaite Boyle Accident Injury Law

If you have sustained a traumatic brain injury in Calgary, Edmonton, or Red Deer, speak to a brain injury lawyer for a sound opinion on whether you should commence a lawsuit, and for guidance on how to move forward. Our law firm has offices in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta. Contact us at 1-800-661-4902.

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