New Study Claims that Brain Injury Leads to Bankruptcy

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Brain and spinal cord injuries can be some of the most devastating injuries to suffer, in large part because the effects of neurological damage to the brain can be wildly unpredictable. A brain injury victim can even go for a period of time with no noticeable changes, but family members and friends may slowly learn that "something isn't quite right."

And now, a new study published in the August issue of Medical Care, goes one step further and links victims of brain injury to bankruptcy.

The study was conducted by Dr. William Hollingworth of Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center at University of Washington, Seattle. Over a period from 1991 to 2002, Hollingworth identified 6,345 adults in the state of Washington who were hospitalized with brain or spinal cord injuries from 1991 to 2002. The researchers also assessed U.S. Bankruptcy Court records to find any links between the patients' subsequent risk of bankruptcy.

Hollingworth found that within five years after brain or spinal cord injury, 3.5 percent of patients profiled filed for bankruptcy. Though this might not sound significant, the severity of the issue becomes apparent when you consider that the risk of bankruptcy was 33 percent higher after brain or spinal cord injury than in the years before the injury.

The common instinct after seeing these numbers would be to assume that bankruptcy more frequently followed a brain injury because such injuries can lead to years of ongoing medical treatment that is more costly than the vast majority of patients can afford.

But that wouldn't be quite right, according to Hollingworth's findings. Rather, the study found that bankruptcy risk was unrelated to the severity of injury. In fact, bankruptcy was somewhat less common for critically injured patients, compared to those with mild injuries.

A possible explanation for this surprising finding, according to the report, is that "the financial safety net may be most accessible for patients with the most debilitating injuries." In other words, because more severe brain injury cases receive compensation in the form of medical settlements and jury verdicts, medical expenses are often more readily available for the victims of these more obvious injuries.

Victims of minor, less debilitating injuries may also be affected in the long run, but their case may be harder to prove, or they may not even know immediately that they have a problem, which could result in no attempt to get compensation or inability to file a suit due to a statute of limitations.

Another important point in the study involved insurance>. Hollingworth and his research colleagues found a complex relationship between bankruptcy and the type of insurance held by brain injury victims. The absolute rate of bankruptcies was twice as high for patients with commercial medical insurance, compared to those with Medicaid.

The explanation for this fact is a bit more complex: "The high absolute incidence of bankruptcy in commercially-insured patients could be attributable to pre-injury wages that allowed them to accumulate mortgages, car loans, and credit card debt," the report reads. "Debts remain post-injury, but the ability to service them recedes due to job loss."

Yet, on the other hand, Medicaid patients had the highest relative increase in bankruptcy risk-more than double the risk before injury. With the evidence in hand, the researchers speculated that many of these patients were uninsured before their injury and applied for the Medicaid program while in the hospital as their only resort.

In any case, the 3.5% increase is definitely not a negligible increase. And, since the data examined stops five years ago, at 2002, brain injury patients may be even more seriously threatened by the prospect of filing for bankruptcy.

The Hollingworth study concludes, "We believe that it is vital that future work examines whether bankruptcy could be prevented through better financial counseling, behavioral therapy, or vocational rehabilitation."

While it should come as no shock to readers of Total Injury and its affiliated site Total Bankruptcy that financial misfortune is one of the consequences of many personal injuries, this new study brings to light the fact that not just those with a serious, severely debilitating brain injury or spinal cord injury should seek legal assistance.

To avoid the risk of filing for bankruptcy, those injured in an auto accident or due to police brutality>, or any other type of personal injury, should seriously consider discussing compensation possibilities with a personal injury attorney. As the Hollingworth study demonstrates, those with a minor brain injury should be all the more cautious.


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