March is Brain Injury Awareness month, but if you are any kind
of a sports fan, you already know that brain injury has been one of
the hottest topics at the intersection of sports, law and medicine
for the past few years. The National Football League (NFL) and
National Hockey League (NHL) are both embroiled in litigation
brought by former players over concussions, and Major League
Baseball (MLB) just recently banned home plate collisions.
But professional athletes are just a small part of the story. The
truth is, brain injury has become an invisible epidemic in our
country, impacting millions of people from all walks of life.
According to the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), an
estimated 2.4 million children and adults in the U.S. sustain a
traumatic brain injury (TBI) and another 795,000 individuals
sustain an acquired brain injury (ABI) from non-traumatic causes
each year. Currently more than 5.3 million children and adults in
the U.S. live with a lifelong disability as a result of TBI and an
estimated 1.1 million have a disability due to stroke.
I've seen firsthand in my own law practice the suffering
experienced by clients with brain injury. I also know how easy it
is to miss its signs and symptoms, which often is why it is so
difficult to diagnose. But let me assure you, brain injury is real,
and its effects are devastating.
Just last month I had the privilege to meet a real American hero:
U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), an Iraq war veteran who lost both
her legs when the Black Hawk helicopter she was piloting was shot
down over Iraq in 2004. (See related story, page 13.) On behalf of
the MBA, I thanked her for supporting Boston Marathon bombing
survivors through her visits with them at Spaulding Rehabilitation
Hospital. During our meeting, Duckworth and I discussed our common
interest in helping brain injury victims. I was awestruck to learn
that, on average, there are 22 successful suicides carried out by
veterans each day, many of whom suffered from debilitating brain
What does this have to do with the MBA?
We have a long history of giving a voice to the underrepresented,
both in and out of the courtroom. This past year alone we fed
nearly 2,000 people at a Thanksgiving Turkey drive and contributed
to a lawyer-backed project to fight homelessness at the Pine Street
Inn. Our "12 for 12" program is still ongoing, where we've brought
lawyers and clients together to advocate for increased funding for
legal aid and our courts.
People suffering from brain injury also need our help. Because
brain injury is so often overlooked, victims sometimes go
unassisted for years. Yet each day, TBI victims face challenges at
their jobs or when trying to get medical coverage for treatment.
MBA lawyers are already working pro bono with clients who suffered
brain injury and other unseen injuries from the Boston Marathon
bombings, but are having trouble getting the compensation their
As a next step, I would like to propose the creation of a Brain
Injury Task Force, one that would follow the collaborative model of
our Workplace Safety Taskforce, which successfully educated the
public and other attorneys on workplace safety, facilitated access
to justice for workers and helped to pass legislation to protect
workers and their families. I now hope to bring together leaders
from the legal, business, medical, political and scientific fields
to study whether TBI victims' rights are adequately protected.
Where we find gaps, we will use our collective expertise to
facilitate and advocate for the proper solutions. In the process we
will educate the public about this important issue.
Helping people with brain injury touches so many corners of our
membership. It's more than just a personal injury issue; it's an
employment issue, a health law issue and an access to justice
issue. Most importantly, it's an underrepresented population that
needs a voice.
As the preeminent voice of the legal profession, it's time we
speak up. And since it is Brain Injury Awareness Month, I say
there's no time like the present.