What Is CTE?

You might have heard about the concussion crisis among professional athletes. But the same cumulative brain damage that afflicts football and hockey players after multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can also affect accident victims.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) causes irreversible brain degeneration. As a result, CTE patients experience a long decline in their physical, mental, and emotional health that disables them from holding jobs and caring for their needs. Eventually, they require around-the-clock assistance to shower, dress, and eat.

Defining CTE

CTE is a degenerative brain disease. This means that the disease never gets better. Instead, the accident victim’s brain deteriorates until they die. In many cases, the patient dies from CTE as it causes brain tissue to shut down. People with CTE can also die from related illnesses or accidents as their mental condition declines.

Occasionally, CTE patients can stabilize. Their conditions may even appear to improve. But because it’s a degenerative disease, CTE never goes away.

What Causes CTE?

CTE results from repeated brain trauma. In the past, doctors thought that multiple concussions caused CTE. But they now believe that repeated head impacts cause CTE, even if the patient did not suffer a concussion. This means that you could develop CTE after multiple head injuries that were too minor to justify medical treatment.

The people most likely to develop CTE include:

  • Athletes who play contact sports like football, hockey, and boxing
  • Military members who experienced multiple explosions during their careers
  • Anyone with head impacts from multiple falls, car accidents, or work accidents
  • Workers using explosives for jobs like mining, oil/gas extraction, and demolition

When you suffer a head impact, your brain tissue gets damaged. Your brain starts building tau proteins after a head impact, although doctors don’t know exactly why this happens. As tau proteins build up in your brain, they kill brain cells.

Tau proteins cause Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. But the pattern of tau proteins in CTE differs from the pattern that forms in other degenerative brain diseases. This distinctive pattern allows doctors to diagnose CTE and distinguish it from other brain diseases.

Unfortunately, this means that doctors can only diagnose CTE after the patient dies. The doctor must examine brain samples under a microscope to definitively diagnose CTE based on the tau protein pattern. But before the patient dies, doctors can tentatively diagnose CTE based on the patient’s symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms of CTE?

CTE symptoms vary from person to person. But the most characteristic symptoms are behavioral. 

The CTE crisis among football players came to the attention of the public when the disease was blamed for a range of troubling incidents. One such incident involved Aaron Hernandez, who was convicted of one murder and acquitted of another before taking his own life.

Some of the behavioral symptoms of CTE include:

  • Paranoia
  • Mood swings
  • Poor judgment
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Changes in personality
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Outbursts of rage and aggression

CTE can also cause mental symptoms akin to dementia. Some common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Amnesia
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep disorders, including insomnia and chronic fatigue

Physical symptoms can also accompany CTE, such as:

  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination and balance

These symptoms take time to develop. Often, behavioral symptoms develop in the victim’s 20s and 30s. But family members, friends, and doctors might simply attribute these problems to youthful recklessness and volatility.

Some victims try to self-medicate using drugs or alcohol to relieve their symptoms. Drug and alcohol use can further mask the symptoms of CTE since loved ones cannot tell which symptoms come from intoxication and which ones come from the brain disorder.

A patient’s cognitive and physical symptoms may also appear later in life. Some CTE patients do not develop symptoms until their 60s. By this time, loved ones might attribute them to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and other forms of dementia. Again, doctors might miss the diagnosis.

Treatment for CTE

CTE is both chronic and degenerative. It lasts forever, and its effects cause a continuous decline. Doctors cannot treat or cure CTE, but they can sometimes relieve the worst symptoms.

Medication can help treat some of the emotional and mental symptoms. Physical and occupational therapy can slow the progression of physical symptoms.

Unfortunately, treatment will not help some victims. These patients will not be able to work. Instead, they will need caretaking to help with their daily tasks, including:

  • Eating
  • Bathing
  • Cooking
  • Dressing
  • Cleaning
  • Shopping

They may also need help managing their money and taking their medication as directed.

Liability for CTE

Getting compensation for CTE isn’t easy. You have to prove that someone — either an individual or a business — acted negligently in causing your injury.

Negligence means that someone failed to exercise reasonable care in preventing your injury. You must show that they knew or should have known that their actions exposed you to an unreasonable risk of head trauma that could, over time, lead to CTE.

Some situations where you might be able to prove this include the following:

Sports Leagues

Sports leagues and teams cannot presently claim that they don’t know about the risk of CTE. Looking back, researchers knew as early as 1928 about “punch-drunk syndrome” among boxers. The NFL knew in 2005 about the risk to football players.

You may have a claim against a sports league that misrepresented or concealed the risks from players. You may also have a case against a sports league that supplied equipment that did not address the risks it knew or should have known about.


Employers, like sports leagues, currently know about the risks of CTE. Employers that failed to supply safety equipment to workers or set company policies that increased the risk of head impacts might bear liability for employees who develop CTE.

Safety Equipment Manufacturers

Equipment manufacturers bear liability for defective equipment. They can also be liable for equipment unsuitable for its intended purpose. If your safety equipment failed to protect you from head impacts that eventually developed into CTE, you may have a claim against the manufacturer.

Getting Personal Injury Compensation for CTE

CTE is incurable. You or your loved one may have significant economic and non-economic losses. A personal injury lawyer can discuss getting the compensation you need to deal with the long-term effects of CTE.

Contact the Clearwater Personal Injury Lawyers At Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers for Help

For more information, please contact the Clearwater and St. Petersburg personal injury law firm of Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers at the nearest location to schedule a free consultation today.

We serve in Pinellas County, and its surrounding areas:

Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers – Clearwater
1875 N Belcher Rd. STE 201,
Clearwater, FL 33765,
United States
24 hours

Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers – St. Petersburg
2560 1st Ave S,
St. Petersburg, FL 33712,
United States
24 hours
(727) 349-1728