Brain Injury

‘The Pretzel’ Faces Lengthy And Costly Brain Injury Recovery

Renown snowboarder Kody Williams will not be on the slopes at Squaw Valley or Mammoth Mountain anytime soon, but his family and friends are confident that hey will eventually recover from a traumatic brain injury. For now, the 22-year-old snowboarder known as “the pretzel” for his acrobatic moves lies in a medically-induced coma.

Mr. Williams was filming stunts for an upcoming movie when he fell on the mountain. He has been hospitalized for more than a month, although Lenny Mazzotti, a close personal friend and fellow snowboarder from California, said Mr. Williams is showing “slow and steady” improvement. According to Curtis Quay, a San Diego personal injury lawyer familiar with brain injury cases, “these types of injuries take time heal and it might be even longer before he fully regains his full motor functions.”

Along with Brett Wilkinson, Mr. Mazzotti started a GoFundMe campaign that has so far raised over $35,000 for Mr.Williams’ rehabilitation. “Kody is the most selfless, most caring person, always in high spirits and shows so much love for everyone he meets… and it shows with the support,” he remarked.

Mr. Williams’ family echoed this sentiment in a statement. “Kody is so loved and he will be wowed by the support he has received. Being out of province, this allows us to be with him as he fights his way [through] this life-altering injury. We cannot even fathom not being with him.”

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Long term, the prospects for TBI victims are very good. Some scientists believe that stem cells might one day help victims re-grow dead brain cells, something that is medically impossible today. Furthermore, researchers at Loma Linda Medical School believe that certain glucocorticoids can help some cerebral palsy victims regain brain function following severe birth injuries. Among newborns and infants, HIE (hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, or oxygen deprivation-induced brain damage) is perhaps the leading cause of serious injury and deaths.

Overall, about 2.2 million people a year seek emergency treatment after a TBI. Many more people probably need treatment and do not get it. Most victims are either very young or very old, and head injury symptoms often mimic shock, dementia, and other non-TBI conditions. Furthermore, the human brain is very good at concealing its own damage, which is why many football players say “put be back in, coach, because I’m fine” even after they suffer head injuries. Most TBIs occur following:

  • Motor Vehicle Wrecks: Some victims hit their heads against steering wheels, dashboards, and other hard objects. Moreover, after a sudden wreck, cellphones and other small objects keep traveling at their previous speed until they hit something solid, so they essentially become high-speed projectiles.
  • Falls: Children often hit their heads on poorly-placed tables and other everyday objects; older adults often easily lose their balance on floor wet spots and other hazardous surfaces.
  • Loud Noises: Researchers speculate that sudden loud noises create shockwaves that interrupt brain functions, which is why some practitioners call traumatic brain injuries the “signature wounds” of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
  • Sports Injuries: These TBIs receive lots of press even though, statistically, they account for only a small percentage of head injuries.

Most damaged tissue, in areas like skin and bone, eventually regenerates, given the proper treatment and sufficient time. But unless and until the advanced procedures mentioned earlier become available, dead brain cells do not regenerate. So, the only available treatment is long-term physical therapy that trains other non-damaged parts of the brain to take over the lost functions. So, the $35,000 that the family raised will probably not go very far.

Fortunately, negligence lawsuits compensate TBI victims for all their economic losses, such as past and future lost wages, medical bills, physical therapy expenses, and medical devices. Moreover, victims are entitled to compensation for their emotional distress and other noneconomic damages.

Legal Issues

To obtain these damages, victim/plaintiffs must prove that the tortfeasor (negligent actor) violated the duty of care, and that breach caused injury. Largely because of the low standard of proof in civil court, negligence cases are rather easy to prove, especially if the tortfeasor broke certain kinds of laws. However, there are several defenses that insurance companies often assert.

In falls and motor vehicle crashes, defense lawyers typically raise the contributory negligence defense. For example, in a slip-and-fall case, the insurance company might argue that the victim should have seen the wet spot on the floor and avoided the area, and by failing to do so, the victim is responsible for the accident. In these cases, juries will divide liability between the parties according to the facts. California is a pure comparative fault state, so judges apportion damages based solely on the percentage of fault.

In sports injuries, swimming pool drownings, and other such incidents, insurance company lawyers nearly always assert the assumption of the risk defense. Essentially, this doctrine states that victims who voluntarily assume a known risk are liable for their own injuries. Whether the victim signs a waiver or participates in the activity, the defendant has the burden of proof to establish both these elements. Additionally, some courts consider some waivers to be against public policy and therefore unenforceable.

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