Michael Ford (post until Oct. 31/19)
Personal Injury

Brain research shows long-term effects of concussions

Brain research from the University of Ottawa provides more conclusive evidence of the long-term damage caused by concussions, says Toronto critical injury lawyer John McLeish.

The Ottawa study shows there are clear signs of continuing effects of brain damage, long after early concussion symptoms disappear, the Ottawa Citizen reports.

“From a personal injury law perspective, this is good news for those who represent individuals who have suffered concussions, providing more scientific evidence that the concussed individual could face permanent consequences,” says McLeish, partner with McLeish Orlando LLP.

“Up until recently, the defence position has emphasized the ‘minor’ nature of some concussions, claiming that symptoms will last for a few weeks or months and then the individual will be fine. For someone like me who represents brain-injured individuals, I now have further scientific evidence that explains why some concussed individuals have ongoing symptoms."

The study, published in the journal, Clinical Neurophysiology, showed that damage caused by a concussion is potentially long-lasting.

Researchers found that in a person who suffered a concussion, information travelled more slowly from the brain to the limbs, the Citizen reports. Therefore, the brain's "white matter," or neural links, was vulnerable to injury years later.

“The brain is a very delicate organ,” McLeish tells AdvocateDaily.com. “It’s the consistency of jelly, floating in cerebrospinal fluid and enclosed in a bony encasement, the skull. So when there’s trauma to a person’s head, many things can happen to the brain — it can twist, it can bump against the inside of the skull, it can even bang against one side and ricochet to the other.

"And, as this article points out, the white matter is more easily damaged than the other parts of the brain, called grey matter.”

McLeish, who believes this University of Ottawa study breaks new ground in concussion research, says he has made sure his expert witnesses in concussion cases are aware of these scientific results. 

“I have made sure my expert witnesses — usually a neurologist, neuropsychologist or physiatrist — know about this study, so when they are giving an opinion about permanent brain injury, this study would further support and strengthen that opinion," he says. 

McLeish expects the research will make it more difficult for defence lawyers to refute opinions and cross-examine experts on the long-term effects of concussions, while providing plaintiffs’ lawyers with additional information to use in cross-examining defence experts.

The research also provides a stern reminder of the need to prevent head injuries whenever possible, McLeish adds.

One of the researchers, François Tremblay, who presented the paper at an Ottawa conference, lambasted fighting in hockey as “something that shouldn’t even be happening,” the Citizen reports.

“I know it’s part of the culture of hockey in Canada, but for me as a neuroscientist, it’s terrible to see that,” Tremblay said.

McLeish, who agrees that hockey is an example of a Canadian sport that requires further safety considerations, says his firm encourages safety in its annual campaign, Helmets on Kids.

"This study helps move us another inch forward on awareness of injury prevention.”

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