Harlene Labrum | December 4, 2023 | Brain Injuries
What Is CTE?
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has entered the popular consciousness due to its connections to contact sports. Football players, boxers, and hockey players have an increased risk of CTE due to their exposure to repeated brain injuries.
However, victims of CTE are not limited to professional athletes. Amateurs and student-athletes can also develop CTE, as do those in other lines of work, like soldiers, construction workers, and miners. In many cases, defective equipment and suppressed information increase the danger of contracting the condition.
Causes of CTE
Doctors do not know exactly how CTE arises, but they believe it relates to the accumulation of tau proteins in the brain.
These serve as building blocks for brain cells. But doctors theorize that brain injuries break these proteins and that, when they grow back, they accumulate in the wrong places. Tau protein accumulation occurs in many forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
Since the defining characteristic of CTE comes from the accumulation of tau proteins in the brain, doctors can only definitively diagnose it by dissecting the brain after death. All they can do is tentatively diagnose it based on brain scans and the symptoms the victim experiences.
Nevertheless, CTE is most often the result of repeated brain trauma. In other words, doctors do not believe you can get CTE from a single car accident or fall. Instead, you develop the condition after a series of brain injuries over time.
Still, there are a few caveats to that: First, you can develop CTE from minor brain injuries that might not rise to the level of a concussion. You do not need to suffer a series of concussions to develop CTE, either.
Mild brain trauma from bumping your head or working around explosions can also lead to CTE if such events happen repeatedly. For example, recreational boxers can develop CTE even when they wear head protection and get hit by padded gloves.
Second, CTE does not necessarily require you to suffer these brain injuries close to one another chronologically. CTE is not the same as second impact syndrome, which occurs when you suffer another concussion while recovering from a previous one.
Unlike second impact syndrome, CTE can develop even when months or years elapse between a prior brain injury. In diagnosing cases of CTE, doctors worry less about the timing of and between the accumulated injuries and instead more about the overall accumulation of damage.
What Are the Potential Symptoms of CTE?
CTE is a progressive, degenerative disease, which means that once it starts, it only gets worse. Doctors have no cure or treatment for CTE and can instead only manage its effects and symptoms. Eventually, the patient will die from CTE, either directly or indirectly.
Some of the symptoms caused by CTE include the following:
- Slow movements
- Speech impairment
- Difficulties with walking and balance
- Memory loss
- Difficulty thinking
The most characteristic symptoms of CTE, though, relate to mood and emotional stability. People with CTE have trouble controlling their impulses. They may engage in risky or even criminal behavior, and they may experience angry, aggressive, or violent outbursts.
People with CTE can also develop anxiety and become paranoid or emotionally unstable. They may experience depression, including suicidal ideation, and might turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medication.
One of the highest-profile cases of CTE comes from Aaron Hernandez, a star football player who likely developed CTE during his amateur and professional career. Hernandez exhibited aggressive behavior and was involved in two murders, and he committed suicide while serving a life sentence for one of them.
Who Might Bear Liability For CTE?
Establishing liability for CTE is not easy, given that the condition develops over time instead of occurring as the result of a single incident, like a head-on collision.
As a result, a personal injury lawyer must prove that a pattern of injuries accumulated to cause the condition, and to that end, they often look at many possible angles to establish liability for CTE, such as:
Negligence is characterized by a person or business failing to exercise reasonable care, which leads to an injury as a result.
Suppose your home is near a mine, which means you are exposed to explosions daily. The mining company might be negligent if it does not take reasonable steps to protect nearby homes from the blast waves that can cause mild (but repeated) brain trauma.
Product manufacturers have strict liability for any injuries that result from the use of their items. Of equal importance, manufacturers must provide products that are safe to use for their intended purposes.
Suppose that a helmet you wore on a sports team in your youth allowed you to suffer head injuries it should have otherwise prevented. In that case, it might have a design defect that could form the basis of a product liability claim.
Similarly, if the helmet lacked any warnings that it was not designed for contact sports or was solely for novelty purposes, it might have a warning defect.
Doctors have known about CTE since 2002, but for decades prior to that, doctors knew that boxers, football players, and other athletes tended to develop dementia at younger ages than the general public.
Despite that knowledge, recreational, college, and professional leagues have withheld information about any links between their sports and CTE, actions that may very well support an injury claim against them.
Compensation That Could Be Available For CTE Patients
If you can prove liability, you can pursue compensation for economic and non-economic losses.
Economic damages cover the financial costs of your injury, typically including the following:
- Past and future medical costs
- Long-term care expenses
- Income losses
- Diminished earning capacity
Non-economic damages encompass the reduction in your quality of life due to your condition.
Some measures of these losses include things such as:
- Physical pain
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress
CTE robs you of both your physical and mental health, causing you and your loved ones to suffer significant damages. Fortunately, the legal system may provide a path for recovering the resources necessary to provide for your care.