Deeper understanding of the impact on people's lives helps lawyers help clients
According to Brain Trust Canada, more than 60% of people with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) experience depression and anxiety, and vulnerability to new or worsened substance abuse increases. Nearly 50% of men in Toronto experiencing homelessness have suffered at least one TBI, and 87% of those occurred prior to them living on the streets. Those who suffer TBI are also 2.5 times more likely to be federally incarcerated — a number that’s likely higher as experts estimate around half never seek medical care for their injury, and therefore aren’t included in the statistics — and studies from around the world show 50-80% of the prison population have experienced brain trauma, with mental illness and substance misuse overrepresented in that group.
“We have clients who experience a TBI and who may also struggle with housing, addiction or criminal legal troubles,” says Ava Williams, associate at Thomson Rogers Lawyers, adding this can be someone's experience before and/or after TBI. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding regarding traumatic brain injury as well as the different areas of society it intersects with — and there’s quite some overlap and some causality between TBIs and many of the clients we see every day.”
TBI can affect many different aspects of somebody’s life or personality, and in many instances they can’t properly advocate for themselves whether they’re advocating for damages through a civil law suit or advocating for proper care. For Williams, as a lawyer and an advocate it’s very important to keep the sobering statistics in mind — nobody wants to end up living on the streets, stuck in the cycle of the criminal justice system, with a new or worse addiction or any combination of those, she notes.
“My clients deserve to get the help that they need so that they don't end up in precarious situations like unstable housing or substance use to cope with their ‘new reality.’”
It’s important for personal injury lawyers, especially on the plaintiff side, to be educated on this issue, and if you do have a brain injured client it’s important to get the proper supports in place for them. Thomson Rogers has specialists that the lawyers can consult with for those supports in addition to serving as experts on their cases, as they are “serving a very diverse clientele, and by virtue of that some of them will be folks who have these difficulties in their lives whether or not it’s associated or directly caused by TBI.”
“I see it in my files, I see it when I walk down the street and it’s in my personal life — for me, I can’t ignore it,” Williams says, adding there’s a reason the Law Society requires lawyers to do a certain number of hours of continuing education every year. “The majority of lawyers in the personal injury bar have a sense of empathy already, and it can only be deepened by continuing to learn about what our client’s face.”
As a society, Williams says we’ve started to pay more attention to these issues and with more attention comes more awareness and research. There are some great resources out there — a couple of Williams’ suggestions are this study from Homeless Hub and this video from the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation — from organizations that “do a great job of breaking down the information to be more digestible.”
“I can scroll through my LinkedIn and read a statistic, watch a quick interview or listen to a podcast that shares a different perspective of TBI that makes me more educated — and by virtue of that, more empathetic and a better advocate.”