Families often face a difficult and emotionally-draining situation when their loved one slips into a coma. The fear of a relative being unable to awaken from a vegetative state weighs heavy, and they are forced to take on years of medical bills and financial burdens to care for their cherished family member.

The strain of supporting your family financially and emotionally is enough of a challenge, but a coma caused by someone else’s negligence can cause a lot of anger and frustration. What’s important to know is you may be able to file a personal injury claim on your relative’s behalf—even if they have not yet awoken from a coma. Our personal injury attorneys explain what you can do to protect your loved one's legal rights. When you're in a coma after a crash

What Is a Coma?

A coma is a deep unconscious state that lasts an extended period of time. It can be caused by various conditions, including an accident involving a traumatic brain injury, stroke, or drug interactions, and it requires constant monitoring in a medical setting. The severity of the injury determines how long a person remains in a coma. Some comas last for days or weeks, while others last for months or years. The longer a patient remains in a coma, the less likely they will recover.

A person in a coma is unaware of their surroundings and doesn’t respond to stimuli such as voices, smells, or touch. Some coma patients may exhibit reflexive movements such as eye twitching, blinking, or grimacing. However, these are involuntary responses that do not indicate awareness or consciousness but rather indicate the body's reflexes are still functioning normally. 

Hospitals often use the Glasgow Coma Scale to measure cognitive functioning and likely outcomes in coma patients. A mild coma has a rating of 13-15 points, a moderate coma has a rating of 9-12 points, and a severe coma has a rating of 2-8 points. Each patient is given a certain number of points based on their responses to certain stimuli:

Eye Opening Response

  • Spontaneous with blinking - 4 points
  • Responsive to sounds, speech, or verbal stimuli - 3 points
  • Responsive to pain or pressure - 2 points
  • No response - 1 point

Verbal Response

  • Oriented to people, time, and place - 5 points
  • Confused but able to answer questions - 4 points
  • Inappropriate or incoherent words - 3 points
  • Sounds but no words - 2 points
  • No response - 1 point

Motor Response

  • Obeys movement commands - 6 points
  • Moves in response to pain - 5 points
  • Withdraws in response to pain - 4 points
  • Flexes in response to pain - 3 points
  • Extension in response to pain - 2 points
  • No response - 1 point

Medication, surgery, and time can all affect how long the patient will remain in a coma. If brain activity is minimal and the patient requires medical equipment to breathe, there is a possibility they will stay in a persistent vegetative state.

Long-Term Consequences for Coma Victims

The treatment for a coma depends on the underlying cause of the condition and its severity. Surgery may be necessary if an underlying structural issue causes the coma such as a tumor or bleeding on the brain. Treatment may also include medications to reduce swelling in the brain and regulate metabolic processes; specialized physical therapy to help maintain muscle strength; and psychological counseling to help patients adjust emotionally to their recovery.

A head injury that causes a coma could potentially result in permanent brain damage. The victim might suffer a loss of hearing or vision, problems with memory and concentration, or lost physical abilities. Trouble with communication and mobility is common, making it difficult for a recovering coma patient to earn a living.

Who Can Bring the Injury Claim?

If another driver’s negligence played a role in causing the coma, it’s possible to pursue compensation through a personal injury claim. If the accident victim is still in a coma or not competent to bring the case, certain parties can bring a claim on behalf of an incapacitated relative—the executor or administrator of the victim’s estate or the person with the medical or financial power of attorney over the victim. If you don’t have power of attorney, our injury lawyers can determine who has the legal standing to file the accident claim.

Explore Your Legal Options as Soon as Possible

If the coma patient does recover, they have the right to bring a personal injury claim against the party responsible for the initial brain injury. However, a coma can cause long-lasting physical and cognitive difficulties, making it hard or impossible for the victim to act on their own behalf.

For this reason, it might be a mistake to wait until a loved one wakes from a coma to seek legal advice. It won’t take long for medical bills to pile up when a relative needs constant care, and you may have to make costly and difficult decisions about your loved one’s future.

How a Lawyer Can Help

  • Proving negligence. The burden of proving who was responsible for an injury always falls on the victim—or in this case, the victim’s family. Several parties could share blame for the accident, including an at-fault driver, the maker of a defective vehicle, or a property owner.
  • Estimating losses. Medical staff must tend to the patient during a coma to prevent bedsores, infections, choking, and pneumonia. They may have to administer medication to encourage brain activity and prevent blood clots. In addition to recovering the cost of ongoing medical bills, families may be able to recover lost past and future wages, loss of consortium, pain and suffering, or even punitive damages.
  • Preventing the destruction of evidence. As the days go on, the evidence in your case might slowly disappear or be intentionally destroyed by the at-fault party, making it harder to prove your case. A personal injury lawyer can help secure medical records, video evidence, witness statements, and other necessary evidence to ensure your loved one receives their rightful compensation.
  • Meeting deadlines. Massachusetts victims have three years from the date of an accident to file a personal injury lawsuit, but additional deadlines must be met for the case to be heard by a judge.
  • Relieving financial burdens. We may be able to ease the pressure you’re under by placing a hold on medical bills and collection actions until your case is resolved. Our law firm offers no-obligation consultations and takes cases on a contingency-fee-basis, making it easy for family members to learn their options for free.


Charles S. Pappas
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Massachusetts injury lawyer & workers' compensation attorney serving accident victims in Webster & Framingham.