How Brain Injuries Can Also Be Emotional Injuries

Posted By: Tony Baratta | July 4th, 2020

I’m Tony Baratta. Today, I want to talk to you about emotional injuries and how they can be proven in court. An emotional injury is like a brain injury. It’s invisible in many instances. And therefore, a lawyer who’s trying to explain it needs to understand the brain and why this emotional injury occurs.


A client case

I represented a client, a grandmother, who regularly drove to her grandkids’ house. One day, she was involved in a very traumatic accident in which she was seriously injured on her grandchildren’s street.

And for years after the accident, she was so fearful that she couldn’t even be a passenger in a car driving on that street. And so she couldn’t visit her grandchildren anymore. Another person might not have that same experience. That’s because each of our brains is different.


Post-traumatic stress

I’m sure you’ve heard of post-traumatic stress. What happens in post-traumatic stress? It’s a physiological response in our bodies to a very traumatic, severe event. When we go through this, our blood pressure increases, our heart rate increases, the blood rushes to our muscles and away from our internal organs.

And a chemical is released into our brain. That chemical creates alertness and enhances our ability to remember. That’s why you might forget where you put your keys, but you’ll remember where you met your wife.


Functional MRI

Have you ever heard of a functional MRI? That’s an MRI that actually sees where blood is flowing to different portions of the brain. In people who have suffered PTSD, these fMRI tests show that when the person is reminded of the traumatic event, there’s increased blood flow to a part of the brain called the amygdala.

And the amygdala is the part of the brain that registers fear and the fear response. So these people have a more sensitive amygdala than other people who might not have suffered the same injury.


Silent injuries

Emotional injuries are our silent injuries. They’re injuries that are real, but they can’t be seen, and there are no diagnostic tests to prove them. So a lawyer has to understand the brain and how it works in order to be able to explain what this injury is and why it’s real.


Panic attacks

Take, for example, someone who suffers from panic attacks. If you know anyone who suffers from panic attacks, you know how debilitating they can be. But what you may not know is that people who are suffering from panic attacks are ultra sensitive to carbon dioxide.

Here’s what happens: When these people are sleeping and they’re in non-REM sleep, which is where their breathing is most relaxed, the oxygen level in their brain is most reduced. At that point, carbon dioxide builds up. And people who suffer from panic attacks have an extreme sensitivity to carbon dioxide. As a result, they wake up hyperventilating.


An ancient survival mechanism

It was kind of a physiological mechanism that we were given as cavemen. So if there was a fire in the cave, our brains would wake us up to avoid the fire and save our lives.

This is a lot like the fight or flight syndrome that occurs when we suffer a very traumatic event, and causes this memory to create emotional issues for us called PTSD. My name is Tony Baratta, and I hope this has been helpful to you.


About the Author

Anthony J. Baratta (Tony) is a trial attorney. He has tried more than 50 cases to Juries in State and Federal Courts and has litigated thousands of personal injury and medical malpractice cases in his 30-year career. Tony is the founding partner of Baratta, Russell, & Baratta and an active board member of the Pennsylvania Brain Injury Association (BPIA). Tony is also on the board for the Philadelphia VIP and performs pro bono work for the Laurel House, a non-profit for victims of domestic abuse. In addition, Tony is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum for trial attorneys, voted one of Philadelphia’s Super Lawyers for the past 14 years, and a 2018 recipient of the First Judicial District Pro Bono Award for the Civil Trial Division.

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