What Is Locked-in Syndrome?

Although hemorrhagic or ischemic stroke might be the most common reason for a devastating condition known as locked-in syndrome, trauma from motor vehicle accidents is also a frequent cause.

In the context of car accidents, locked-in syndrome may occur if there is severe trauma to the brainstem or other critical areas of the brain. Head injuries, such as those sustained in a car accident, can lead to a range of neurological consequences, depending on the nature and extent of the trauma.  Locked-in syndrome may result if the damage affects the specific regions responsible for voluntary muscle control while sparing eye movement control.

Symptoms of locked-in syndrome

Locked-in syndrome (LIS) is a medical condition resulting from damage to the lower part of the brain and/or the brainstem. LIS is characterized by total paralysis of all voluntary muscles in the body, except for those that control eye movement. As a result, individuals with locked-in syndrome are conscious and aware but cannot move or speak.

The defining feature of locked-in syndrome is the selective loss of voluntary muscle control, while cognitive functions and awareness remain intact. The name “locked-in” reflects the individual’s apparent state of being locked inside their body, with only the ability to move their eyes. The vertical eye movement and blinking muscles are often preserved, allowing for communication using eye movements and blinks.

There are three main types of locked-in syndrome:

  1. The classical form, in which the person maintains a normal level of consciousness but has total immobility except for vertical eye movements and the ability to blink
  2. The incomplete form, or the classical form with some limited additional motor functions
  3. The complete form characterized by complete body paralysis, including the loss of eye movement

Consciousness is frequently determined by blink-response or eye movement-response to questions in the classical and incomplete forms; however, in the complete form, an EEG may be utilized to evaluate brain activity, sleep-wake cycles, and attention.

What type of trauma to the brain leads to locked-in syndrome?

LIS typically occurs due to damage to specific areas of the brain, particularly the pons, which is part of the brainstem. The brainstem plays a critical role in transmitting signals between the brain and the rest of the body and controls numerous vital functions, including breathing, heartbeat, and consciousness.

This type of brain trauma is most likely to occur in a high-speed car accident. The sudden deceleration of two or more vehicles hitting can break cervical vertebrae, penetrate the brain stem, or cause the stem to twist or tear.

How might locked-in syndrome affect a person’s life?

The impact of locked-in syndrome on an individual’s life is significant, as they are often fully conscious and cognitively intact but are unable to communicate or move. Treatment and rehabilitation for locked-in syndrome focus on improving the individual’s quality of life and finding ways to facilitate communication through eye-tracking technology or other assistive devices. Survivors of LIS often experience incapacitating motor loss, but prompt diagnosis of the disease, supportive treatment, and early rehabilitation have proven to have a positive effect on victim’s lives.

The prognosis for locked-in syndrome typically varies according to the underlying cause and the extent of brain damage. Some individuals may experience partial recovery over time, while others may remain in a locked-in state for an extended period. Rehabilitation and assistive technologies, such as communication devices controlled by eye movements, can play a crucial role in helping individuals with locked-in syndrome regain some level of independence and communication ability.

Damages for locked-in syndrome

If you or a loved one has experienced locked-in syndrome as a result of a car accident, the legal process for recovering damages can be complex and may vary depending on the specific circumstances of the accident. Generally, potential damages that could be pursued in a personal injury lawsuit arising from a car accident leading to locked-in syndrome may include:

  • Medical expenses: You may be entitled to recover the costs of medical treatment, hospitalization, rehabilitation, and any ongoing medical care related to the locked-in syndrome.
  • Cost of assistive devices and accommodations: Individuals with locked-in syndrome often require special equipment and accommodations to go about their daily lives, and the costs associated with these necessities may be recoverable.
  • Lost Income and loss of earning capacity: If you were employed when you were involved in an accident that led to locked-in syndrome, you may seek compensation for lost wages and potentially lost earning capacity if the condition impacts your ability to work in the future.
  • Pain and suffering: Damages for physical pain, emotional anguish, and the overall negative impact on quality of life may be pursued by those suffering from locked-in syndrome. The condition can profoundly affect the individual and their family, and non-economic damages are intended to compensate for these intangible but valid losses.
  • Loss of consortium: In some circumstances, the spouse or family members of the affected individual may be able to seek compensation for the loss of companionship, support, and services resulting from locked-in syndrome.
  • Punitive damages: In situations where the at-fault party’s conduct is considered particularly egregious or careless, punitive damages are sometimes awarded to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar behavior in the future. Under California law, the injured party must prove that the at-fault party’s actions involved malice, oppression, or fraud to be eligible for punitive damages

Recovering damages in an LIS case is a complex process that involves gathering evidence, negotiating with insurance companies, and potentially pursuing a lawsuit against the at-fault party. Therefore, it’s crucial that you consult with an experienced California personal injury attorney who can provide advice tailored to your specific case and jurisdiction.

The legal team at McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP has helped countless injured clients, and we want to help you, too. Our lawyers have the skills required to help you recover maximum compensation from the party that caused you harm. If you or someone you love sustained a devastating locked-in syndrome injury, McNicholas & McNicholas has extensive experience handling complicated brain injury cases, and we will provide you with the best advice possible. Call or complete our contact form to discuss your claim and options for securing the compensation you need and deserve.

This blog is not meant to be taken as legal advice. Every case is unique and fact specific. Therefore, if you need assistance with your legal case, please consult with one of our lawyers directly.