Brain Injury Liability

A Bay Area police officer clings to life after a suspect assaulted him with a skateboard on Thanksgiving Day.

The victim was among several South San Francisco officers summoned to a disturbance call at an area business. Several people reported a person “acting aggressively and irrationally,” according to South San Francisco Police Chief Jeff Azzopardi. After a brief confrontation with officers, the suspect fled the scene.

As the victim pursued on foot, the suspect wheeled around and smacked the officer with a skateboard. As the officer crumpled to the ground, several other officers subdued the suspect, who was later identified as 28-year-old Luis Alberto Ramos-Coreas. The officer, whose name was not released, underwent emergency surgery to deal with a traumatic brain injury, and he remains hospitalized. Mr. Ramos-Coreas was charged with attempted murder of a police officer and several other offenses, and he was booked into the San Mateo jail.

South San Francisco Mayor Mark Addiego predicted the “disheartening” incident would have a tremendous impact on the community.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

About 1.7 million Americans a year sustain traumatic brain injuries because of a blow to the head, jolt to the neck, bump, or a penetrating injury. A startling number of these victims receive emergency medical attention, and then they are promptly released. In times past, doctors used the treat-and-release approach because they misunderstood TBIs. Although that’s no longer the case, at least for the most part, many doctors still treat-and-release these victims because they do not properly diagnose the victims’ injuries.

Most all TBI victims are confused and disoriented. Sometimes, doctors and first responders dismiss these symptoms as shock from the injury or early-onset dementia. As a result, many victims do not get the attention they need for several days, during which time more brain cells die. In fact, some victims only seek treatment when the confusion and disorientation becomes insomnia, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), severe chronic headaches, personality changes, and other symptoms which make it very difficult, or even impossible, to function.

Most tissue injuries heal given time, treatment, and therapy, but dead brain tissue typically never heals, so TBIs are almost always permanent. So, instead of healing, TBI rehabilitation focuses on regaining lost functions by training other brain areas to take over those lost functions. After long-term therapy, most victims can live relatively normal lives. Even after the therapy ends, some victims must install wheelchair ramps in their homes and make other costly adjustments.

Because of the extended and difficult recovery, TBI victims often receive substantial compensation for their injuries.

TBIs and Negligence

Car crashes and falls cause most TBIs. To win compensation in these cases, most victims must first establish that the tortfeasor (negligent actor) owed a legal duty to the victim.

  • Motorists: Drivers owe a duty of care to other people on the road, whether they are motorists or non-motorists. To fulfill their duty, operators must concentrate on the road, be sober, obey traffic laws, and otherwise drive defensively.
  • Common Carriers: In California, taxi drivers, bus drivers, and other commercial operators have a higher duty of care, especially with regard to their passengers.
  • Landowners: California courts use a seven-point test to determine duty among shopkeepers, homeowners, business owners, and other landowners.

In some cases, third parties have a duty of care as well. For example, employers have a duty to properly hire, train, and supervise their workers. So, if these workers negligently or intentionally injure other people, the employers are responsible for damages, as discussed below.

Tortfeasors breach the duty of care when their conduct falls below a certain standard. Many times, the vehicle code and building code serve as the measuring sticks in these cases. However, tortfeasors can breach the duty of care even if they committed no infraction. For example, drivers are speeding for negligence purposes if they are traveling too fast for the conditions at the time, regardless of the posted speed limit. And, there are only a handful of Occupational Safety and Health Agency inspectors, so landowners can still violate the duty of care even if they are not caught.

There must be a direct connection between the breach and the damages. Cause-in-fact is sometimes an issue if there is a third-party act; for example, Victor Victim might sustain a TBI in a barroom fight with another patron. In most cases, owners and drivers are still liable for damages, as long as the injury was foreseeable.

In tort cases, victims are entitled to compensation for both their economic damages, such as lost wages and medical bills, as well as their noneconomic damages, such as emotional distress and loss of enjoyment in life. If the tortfeasor intentionally disregarded a known risk, the victim may be entitled to additional punitive damages as well.

For prompt assistance with a brain injury or other negligence case, contact an assertive personal injury attorney in Los Angeles from Citywide Law Group today, because you have a limited amount of time to act.