A young woman holds her head and sits in front of a crashed car.

Brain Injuries and Head Injuries From Car Accidents: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery

When a car accident’s extreme force slams the brain against the skull, it can injure fragile structures like blood vessels and nerve fibers. If ignored, these injuries can result in permanent brain damage.

After a car accident, it’s crucial to receive medical attention immediately. If you or someone you know has recently suffered a car accident head injury, don’t hesitate to make an emergency room visit. In this article, we’ll go over the common symptoms to watch for, what to expect from treatment, and how a car accident attorney can help fight for the brain injury settlement you deserve.

How Common Are Brain Injuries After Car Accidents?

Brain injuries are some of the most common injuries sustained during an auto accident. When a crash occurs, the rest of your body is strapped to your seat. Anything above your seat belt, like your head, can move freely with the motions of the vehicle. The force of impact can move your head side to side or forward and backward while the rest of your body remains immobile.

When your neck and head move during an accident, they often come into contact with other structures inside of the vehicle. For instance, your head can slam into the steering wheel, dashboard, or window, rattling your brain. Similarly, objects within the vehicle can become projectiles, which can cause a brain injury.

What is a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a closed head injury caused by a rapid blow to the head or body. Although the skull surrounding the brain doesn’t fracture, the impact can cause brain tissue damage, brain bleeding, bruising, or extra fluid to accumulate inside the brain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are at least 1.7 million TBIs each year. Car accidents are the primary cause of TBIs, second only to falls. A TBI can range from a mild, moderate, or severe head injury.

CT scan images of a brain.

Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries

The term “traumatic brain injury” doesn’t refer to just one injury, but to a category of head trauma.

A TBI can encompass several different types of brain damage, ranging from a concussion to a subdural hematoma. If you suspect you have any of the following traumatic brain injuries, you must visit your health care provider or speak to a medical professional immediately.


A concussion is the most common and least serious type of TBI. It’s a minor head injury caused by a sudden blow or minor bump to the skull. After a motor vehicle accident, a concussion can cause minor bruising or damage to blood vessels, impacting normal brain function.

After a concussion, it’s normal to suffer blurred vision, double vision, or loss of equilibrium. A more severe concussion can alter your level of consciousness, causing you to pass out for a few moments after impact.


A contusion, or bruise, is a common car accident head injury. When the head strikes against a hard surface, such as a steering wheel, it can bruise the area of the brain where the skull made contact. A coup or contrecoup lesion is a contusion that occurs at the site of trauma and on the other side of the brain due to the rapid motion inside of the skull.

Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI)

A diffuse axonal injury (DAI) is a slightly more serious brain injury caused by a severe rotation or violent shaking of the brain. This type of car accident head injury is common in high-speed crashes when the vehicle stops abruptly, and the brain slams against the skull.

An axonal brain injury stretches and tears brain tissue at the cellular level, damaging crucial nerve axons. As a result, loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, and nausea can occur.

Traumatic Subarachnoid Hemorrhage (tSAH)

A subarachnoid hemorrhage (tSAH) is a severe head injury categorized by bleeding in the space that surrounds the brain. Typically, this space is filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which helps to cushion and protect the brain. A car accident can cause tears in brain arteries, leading to blood spreading across the surface of the brain and potentially causing seizures or stroke.


A hematoma is often a result of a brain bleed that causes the formation of a blood clot when brain blood vessels rupture. Depending on where the clot forms, a hematoma can be considered a severe TBI.

There are three types of hematoma head injuries:

  1. Epidural hematoma: A clot forms between the skull and the dura lining of the brain.
  2. Subdural hematoma: A clot that forms between the brain and the dura.
  3. Intracerebral hematoma: A clot that forms deep within the brain tissue itself.
A young woman rubs her forehead to relieve headache pain.

Other Common Types of Head Injuries from Car Accidents

While traumatic brain injuries are among the most common types of head trauma after a car accident, several different types of injuries can be inflicted during a crash. Some of these injuries include:

  • Secondary brain injuries
  • Penetration injuries
  • Skull fractures.

Secondary Brain Injury

A secondary brain injury is a type of delayed trauma. It’s part of the body’s inflammatory response to a primary injury, such as a concussion or contusion. After the initial impact, the brain swells and produces extra fluid in an attempt to heal the damage.

However, as extra fluid accumulates, it shoves the brain against the hard, bony skull. In turn, this causes injury to parts of the brain that were initially unharmed. Secondary brain injuries are a delayed response so it’s crucial to have a medical professional assess any car accident head injury to ensure no inflammation is present.


A penetration injury occurs when an external object pierces the skull. During an auto accident, objects inside or around the vehicle can become projectiles that cause a head or scalp wound. Unlike the above brain injuries, penetration is the only non-closed brain injury. When left untreated, brain damage or infection can occur.

Skull Fracture

A skull fracture occurs when one or more of the eight cranial bones in your head breaks.  A head-on collision or high-speed crash can create enough force of impact to fracture the skull, which can subsequently injure the brain. After an accident, a fractured skull usually is immediately apparent by bleeding or bruising around the ears, nose, or eyes.

A man rubs his temples in a sign on headache pain.

What Are the Symptoms of a Head Injury?

Depending on the type and location of a head injury, symptoms can vary. Several head injuries, such as a concussion and contusion, share similar symptoms. It is crucial to point out that a car accident head injury may not show symptoms until hours or days after the crash occurs. For these reasons, accident victims should always receive emergency medical care.

Common symptoms of a head injury to monitor after an accident include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Blurry vision
  • Double vision
  • Violent shaking
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Minor bump on the scalp
  • Loss of memory (amnesia)
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Decreased level of consciousness

If you or a loved one experiences emotional changes, such as mood swings or irritability, or sensory problems like impaired hand-eye coordination, visit a medical professional immediately.

How to Determine Traumatic Brain Injury After an Auto Accident

The signs of a traumatic brain injury or general head trauma don’t always appear immediately after an accident. Instead, pain may take several hours to begin settling in. In other cases, symptoms like a headache can be written off as stress or fear.

If you believe you’ve suffered a car accident head injury it is important to seek medical attention. A healthcare provider will utilize a variety of tests and diagnostic imaging to determine the level of trauma inflicted to the brain.

Common tests include:

  • The Glasgow Coma Score (GCS): A 15-point test used to grade a patient’s level of consciousness or depth of coma.
  • Computed Tomography (CT Scan): A type of X-ray that generates detailed images of anatomical structures within the brain.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI Scan): A diagnostic test that uses a magnetic field and radiofrequency waves to generate a detailed view of brain tissue.
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS Scan): A type of imaging test that uses a magnetic field to compare the chemical composition of normal brain tissue to damaged tissue.

What Treatments are Available for Car Accident Head Injuries?

There are several treatments available for car accident head injuries. After your head trauma has been diagnosed, a healthcare professional will work with you to outline an individual treatment plan. Mild TBIs like a concussion typically require rest and anti-inflammatory medication to relieve the headache.

Severe TBIs, on the other hand, may require intensive care in the hospital or emergency services. Bleeding and swelling in the brain, common in traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhages and hematomas, often require emergency surgery in the neuroscience intensive care unit (NSICU). In some cases, a thin tube must be implanted in the brain to drain excess fluid.

What to Do if You Have Signs of Concussion After a Car Accident

If you are experiencing symptoms of a concussion or TBI following a car accident, you must seek medical treatment as soon as possible. If you do not take an ambulance to the hospital after your accident, you should visit the emergency room in the following hours.

It’s imperative you visit a health care provider who can perform the necessary testing to view the inside of the skull and examine the brain. If you are experiencing doubled or blurry vision, have someone else drive you to the hospital.

Remember, head trauma can be delayed. Do not hesitate to follow up with symptoms of a concussion or other brain injury symptoms. Once you’ve received a diagnosis for your injury, reach out to a personal injury firm that can begin the injury claims process for you.

How Can a Car Accident Attorney Help?

After suffering a head injury in a car accident, the last thing you want to worry about is catching up on medical bills or haggling with insurance companies. A trusted car accident attorney can help. An attorney can gather the documentation for all medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, pain and suffering, and more to compile a personal injury case.

You won’t need to worry about negotiating with the insurance company to help cover your medical bills if you bring a qualified attorney on board. An attorney is well-versed on the average settlement amounts for accident injuries and will fight for your right to fair compensation. If you’ve suffered severe brain injuries, a lawyer can file a lawsuit on your behalf.

Seek Advice from an Attorney for a Severe Head Injury

If you or a loved one has recently suffered a head injury or brain injury due to the actions of another driver, don’t hesitate to reach out to The Miley Legal Group. We proudly represent personal injury victims and their families across West Virginia and want to fight for your right to compensation. After you seek medical care, contact The Miley Legal Group for a free case evaluation.

Author Bio

Tim Miley is the Founder of Miley Legal Accident Injury Lawyers, a West Virginia personal injury law firm he formed in 2006. With more than 30 years of experience in personal injury law, he is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of personal injury cases, including car accidents, trucking accidents, motorcycle accidents, brain injuries, wrongful death, and other personal injury matters.

Tim received his Juris Doctor from Duquesne University and is a member of the West Virginia State Bar and the Harrison County Bar Association. He has helped his clients win more than $10 million in personal injury verdicts and settlements and has further served the people of West Virginia by filling legislative roles in the state’s government since 2004.

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