When you throw a stone into the center of a small pond, it creates a beautiful ripple that expands from the center and stretches slowly but surely across the pond. If the stone was large enough, the ripple may eventually touch everything on the pond’s surface- plants, bugs, and ducks included- until it reaches the edges of the pond. Ripple effects apply to unpredictable situations that can have unforeseeable effects on future circumstances. For example, if a child sustains a serious injury early in his or her life, that incident is likely to have a profound effect upon myriad aspects of the victim’s development and future.
Unfortunately, brain injuries are often more harmful to children than to adults. They cause approximately one hundred thousand hospitalizations each year. Children can sustain head injuries in auto and bike accidents, falls, and sports accidents. Originally, neuroscientists and physicians believed that it was more beneficial to sustain a brain injury as a child, rather than as an adult, since the brain is still in developmental stages and should have time to “correct” itself. However, it is actually more harmful for an individual to sustain brain damage at a young age for three reasons: children’s brains are damaged more from impact than adults’ brains, damage can interfere with the developmental process, and the extent of damage is extremely difficult to measure.
We learn early on that out skulls and ribs act to protect our vital organs. The stronger our bones, therefore, especially our skulls, the better protected we are. Children’s skulls are softer and thinner than adults’ since they are still in development. Therefore, a heavy blow dealt to a child is likely to cause much more damage than a blow of equal force dealt to an adult.
In children, some side effects from a head trauma may not be apparent for many years. Frontal lobe functions, for example, develop relatively late in a child's growth; thus, injury to the frontal lobes may not be detected by doctors until the child should start to develop higher reasoning skills later in life. Since the frontal lobes also control social skills, damage to this area of the brain in very young children may not manifest until such skills surface later in development as children begin to interact with their peers at school. Injury to cognitive and reasoning centers in the brain may not be detected until the child begins his or her education and exhibits signs of delayed reading and writing skills.
It is more difficult to determine the extent to which a child has lost brain function if the brain is still in early development simply because the child has not yet had the opportunity to exhibit his or her full potential. The younger the child, the less medical and personal information is on record. For injured adults, academic records, test scores, past achievements and abilities, and job histories can be used to compare and measure the effect of a brain injury, whereas it is much harder to determine the degree of lost potential in a child. An adult’s life history is a useful tool for doctors trying to diagnose the extent of an injury and offer a prognosis; children’s physicians are at a disadvantage since they lack this information.
Despite the fact that it typically takes until a child reaches the age of five to accurately evaluate the harm he or she has sustained and the obstacles that are likely to face him or her, statutes of limitation still apply when it comes to collecting damages. Parents of young injury victims may have difficulty to determining and collecting the amount it will take to properly cover medical costs and other accident-related expenses. Since it is impossible to see into the child’s future, parents may feel helpless when faced with all the possible expenses and difficulties that lay ahead. Immediately after an injury, there may be no way of knowing how far the ripple effect from an accident can extend. It can be frustrating and detrimental to make a claim before you know what you’re going to need. That is why, if a child is injured, it is always wise to consult a personal injury attorney who specializes in head trauma to young patients; doing so can help you determine the steps you need to take to ensure the best health and future for your child.