Brain Injury After a Car Accident: What You Need to Know

Car accidents can be devastating and life-changing events which can result in financial loss, trauma, and serious or life-threatening injury—particularly traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Unfortunately, car accidents are not rare. In 2020 alone, there were over 5 million auto collisions reported in the United States, and these accidents continue to be a leading cause of TBI.

What to Do If You’ve Been in a Car Accident

Given the prevalence of car accidents and the potential severity of related brain injuries, it is critical to know how to respond if you have been in an accident.

1. Get Examined Immediately

If you have been in a car accident, it is crucial to seek medical attention as soon as possible, even if you do not feel any immediate pain or symptoms. For some brain injuries, like concussions, symptoms can take hours or even days to set in, especially if they are masked by other symptoms or pain.

2. Seek Diagnostic Evaluation at a Hospital

It is important to get a comprehensive evaluation by a medical professional who has experience diagnosing and treating brain injuries, as these injuries can be highly complex and can have long-term consequences if left untreated.

3. Document Your Symptoms

Keeping a detailed record of your symptoms, including when they started, how severe they are, and how they have affected your daily life, can help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment for your brain injury.

4. Seek Follow-up Care as Necessary

Brain injuries can have prolonged effects on your physical, emotional, and cognitive wellbeing. If you have noticed significant changes in your moods or decreased cognitive function, you may need ongoing treatment from a neuropsychologist or other brain health specialists to manage your symptoms and promote continued healing.

5. Get the Support You Need to File an Insurance Claim

Insurance claims can be filed not only for vehicle-related expenses, but for injury-related expenses as well, such as medical bills, ongoing treatment expenses, lost quality of life, or lost income resulting from the inability to work. Though common, car-accident-related brain injuries are complex, and to understand their cause and scope often requires specialized expertise.

For this reason, many lawyers specialize in brain injuries, often talking with neuropsychologists to understand the impact of their client’s injury and the treatment necessary, and to help their client obtain the appropriate compensation they deserve for their injuries.

Brain Injuries

The brain is a delicate and complex organ that can be injured in a variety of ways and to many different degrees during a car accident or other trauma. Regardless of the type or severity of brain injury, it is important to note that all of them can have significant effects on a person’s life and long-term health.

Not everyone who is involved in an automobile accident or injury suffers a concussion or traumatic brain injury, and if you do suffer such an injury, the odds are that you will fully recover within a few days or months. But sometimes problems can linger. Fortunately help is available.


The most common type of brain injury, a concussion occurs when the brain is jolted or shaken inside the skull due to impact or other physical forces. In the case of a car accident, this could happen when the head is thrown around in a collision or when the head strikes a hard object like a steering wheel, dashboard, or window.

Brain Contusion

A brain contusion refers to a bruise on the brain. As with a concussion, brain contusions can occur when the head directly hits a hard surface, like a side window or the roof of the car. Often, they result from a violent jolt during which the brain slams against the inside of the skull.

Skull Fracture

If the head is hit with enough force, the skull bone can fracture, or crack. Typically if a fracture is sustained, the brain also incurs a concussion and brain contusion. A fracture could occur when the head smacks against the car or when the skull is penetrated by an object.


Coup-contrecoup injuries occur when there is an impact to one side of the head so severe that it causes the brain to hit the opposite inside of the skull, resulting in two separate injuries on either side of the brain. This could happen during a car accident that is particularly violent, like a T-bone or rollover collision.

Brain Penetration

A severe form of traumatic brain injury, brain penetration injuries occur when extreme force causes an object to cut through the skull and enter the brain. Brain penetration injuries could happen during a car accident when objects from inside or outside the car, such as shattered glass or metal debris from the car, penetrate the skull.

Symptoms of Car Accident Brain Injury

The symptoms of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can vary significantly based on the type and severity of the injury. Moderate to severe TBIs, such as some brain contusions or penetrating injuries, can cause symptoms like major memory loss, seizures, permanent disability, or even death.

Mild TBIs, most commonly concussions, may cause temporary symptoms, prolonged symptoms, or if untreated, result in lasting damage. Whether or not symptoms are present, it is recommended that you seek medical attention immediately after an accident during which you may have injured your brain, as early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve the outcome of a TBI.


Common Physical Symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Sleep problems
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Balance difficulties
  • Significant fatigue

Common Emotional or Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Decreased patience
  • Frustration
  • Driving fears
  • Low motivation
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Personality changes
  • Sadness and depression

Common Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Attention and concentration problems
  • Slowed thinking
  • Memory difficulties
  • Mental inefficiency
  • Tendency toward cognitive overwhelm
  • Speech and word-finding problems
  • Limited strategic or organizational thinking

Treatments Available

Treatment depends on the type and severity of brain injury incurred; but typically, comprehensive treatment begins with a diagnosis of the specific injury and addresses the unique physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms experienced by the patient, as well as the disruptive problems these symptoms can cause, such as:

  • Driving anxiety
  • Inefficiency at work
  • Inability to manage responsibilities beyond work, like volunteering, household chores, and friendships
  • Guilt about the decreased ability to function

At the Brain and Behavior Clinic, our initial evaluation involves a comprehensive 2–3 hour appointment with one of our neuropsychologists. Following this, our doctors and specialists work together to create an individualized treatment plan which, depending on the patient, could involve:

  • Short-term trauma psychotherapy to address any stress or driving anxiety the person may be experiencing following their crash
  • Occupational therapy to develop compensation and limit-setting strategies for managing the many daily responsibilities they have and which they are having trouble fulfilling
  • Medication recommendations, often to aid sleep or improve cognitive abilities
  • Referrals to trusted clinicians for:
    • A vision evaluation
    • A vestibular evaluation,
    • Nutritionist care to ensure the brain is supplemented with the proper foods for enhanced recovery

If you have been in a car accident and may have suffered a traumatic brain injury, whether or not you have already received a diagnosis, call our clinic. Our experienced doctors can help you understand any brain injury you may have, and if relevant, help you get started with the right treatment for your specific set of circumstances.