A vegetative state is where a person is awake but does not show signs of awareness. A vegetative state can occur after a coma but is not aware or able to communicate. A person in a vegetative state may be able to open their eyes, wake up and fall asleep, blink, or react to painful stimuli.
A vegetative state can be caused by a traumatic brain injury or a non-traumatic brain injury, like a stroke or drug overdose. Individuals in a vegetative state may require round-the-clock care for weeks, months, or years. In an injury accident, the victim's family may be able to file a personal injury claim to get compensation for the medical expenses to care for the victim.
In other cases, the brain injury could have been caused by a doctor's negligence or hospital's mistake. In these situations, the family may be able to file a medical malpractice claim for compensation and medical treatment.
What is a Vegetative State?
The term “vegetative state” can be confusing because it does not necessarily indicate the complex nature of the individual's brain and physical function. A person who comes out of a coma into a vegetative state can give family members hope of recovery. However, if the vegetative state does not improve over time, the condition may be considered permanent.
A vegetative state can later be classified as persistent or permanent. The categorization of a vegetative state is a diagnostic classification based on the time the patient is under the condition, and the specific situation. The longer the patient is in a vegetative state, the lower the expectation for recovery or improvement.
During the initial stages of a vegetative state, a number of diagnostic and neurological tests are done to evaluate the patient's condition. Doctors may also look for signs of improvement and assess the extent of the brain injury.
After diagnosis of a vegetative state (VS), if the patient remains in a VS for 4 weeks, the patient is then classified as in a persistent vegetative state. After 3 months from a non-traumatic brain injury or one year after a traumatic brain injury, the patient may be classified as in a permanent vegetative state.
A diagnosis of a persistent or permanent vegetative state can be made to justify a request to be taken off life support. This may also depend on the patient's living will or advance healthcare directive.
How is a Vegetative State Different Than a Coma?
A persistent vegetative state is also called post-coma unresponsiveness. In a coma, the patient is unconscious and unaware. In a vegetative state, the patient recovers consciousness but remains unaware. Consciousness can be difficult to understand for friends or family members who see movement and responses and believe they are in direct response to seeing or hearing familiar faces and voices.
However, individuals in a vegetative state are generally not aware of their surroundings and may only be able to respond to basic stimuli like pain, bright lights, or loud noises. Individuals in a vegetative state may be able to swallow and breath normally. Some coma patients can breath but others may require use of a ventilator.
Causes of a Vegetative State
A vegetative state is caused by damage to the brain. Damage to the brain can involve direct trauma, like a blow to the head or serious car accident. Damage to the brain can also be caused by non-traumatic factors like cancer, drug overdose, stroke, hemorrhage, or even an infection. The brain and central nervous system are very sensitive to outside forces, swelling, or chemical imbalances. Even temporary alterations to the brain's chemistry can lead to permanent damage.
In a traumatic accident, like a fall or sporting accident, direct pressure on the brain tissue can damage cells. The harm may depend on the amount of force, extent of the damage, and where the damage occurred. Even if a blow to the head does not directly harm brain tissue, it may cause swelling in the brain that can cause secondary damage. This is one reason that brain injuries can be complicated because the onset of the symptoms may take hours or even days before the injury victim notices problems.
In a non-traumatic brain injury, the damage can be caused by other chemical and body functions that impact the brain. This could include a glucose imbalance related to diabetes, lack of blood flow due to an embolism, or disease that causes swelling in the brain. There are a number of medical conditions that have similar signs and symptoms when it affects the brain that a rapid diagnosis is important to reducing the risk of permanent injury.
Traumatic Causes of a Vegetative State
Traumatic causes of a vegetative state generally involve a serious injury to the head or internal bleeding. This could include a car accident where the driver, passenger, pedestrian, motorcyclist, or cyclist suffers a head injury. Slip and fall accidents, falls down stairs, or falls at construction sites are another major cause of traumatic brain injury. Violence can also cause damage to the brain, as well as sporting and recreational accidents.
Medical Errors Causing a Vegetative State
Patients who go to receive care for a variety of medical issues can end up suffering brain injury as a result of a medical mistake. Medical malpractice may occur when a doctor, nurse, or healthcare professional fails to provide the standard of care that other providers would have given under similar circumstances. A medical mistake that can cause brain injury may involve:
- Diagnostic errors
- Failure to diagnose
- Delayed diagnosis
- Improper medication
- Hospital-acquired infections
- Medication interactions
- Anesthesia complications
Treatment and Recovery of a Vegetative State
Some people recover from a vegetative state within weeks. There is some disagreement over the use of the term “persistent” vegetative state because there is still some chance for recovery. The chance for recovery depends on a number of factors, including the age of the patient, time in a vegetative state, and other health conditions. Younger patients may have a greater chance for recovery.
Even if a patient does recover from PVS, the longer the patient is in a compromised state, the greater the risk that they will also suffer some brain dysfunction or disability. If a patient does not recover from PVS, they may continue surviving with use of a feeding tube and care. Other patients in a PVS will not recover and may die or continue to deteriorate, leading to brain death.
Filing a Personal Injury or Malpractice Claim After a Vegetative State Injury
Extensive hospital stays, round-the-clock care, and even modified home care is expensive and time-consuming. Family members may want to do all they can to give their loved one the best chance for recovery. However, if the brain injury was caused by someone else's actions, the responsible party should have to pay the costs of care.
A personal injury lawsuit or medical malpractice claim is a civil lawsuit for damages. Damages include the losses associated with the injury, including medical expenses, loss of support, and loss of income. Talk to your personal injury and medical malpractice attorney about your claim.
Vegetative State Accident Attorneys
After a loved one goes into a vegetative state, it can be difficult to think a lawsuit. Unfortunately, there is a limited amount of time to file a claim after an injury accident. By calling an experienced attorney who understands brain injuries, you can focus on your loved one and your attorney will do the work to get you compensation for your losses.
At Gilman & Bedigian, our aggressive trial lawyers have helped our clients and their families recover millions of dollars in compensation related to brain injuries caused by accidents or medical error. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.