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Falls, even when a person slips or trips and falls on the floor, can cause myriad injuries ranging from minor bruises to potentially life-threatening conditions. One of the most serious is traumatic brain injury (TBI).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), accidental falls are the second leading cause of TBI fatalities. The number of fatal TBIs caused by falls has been increasing, particularly among seniors 75 and older. However, it can happen to anyone at any age.

A fatal fall that seemed minor at the time

One tragic case garnered considerable media attention 12 years ago because it involved actress Natasha Richardson, who was married to Irish actor Liam Neeson. The 45-year-old mother of two was on a beginner ski slope at a Canadian resort when she fell and hit her head.

Richardson didn’t begin to feel the ramifications of the fall until she developed a headache about an hour later. She was taken to a nearby hospital and then transported to a U.S. hospital, where she died from her injury.

Symptoms can take time to develop

Neurologists say the onset of symptoms of a TBI can take time. A potentially deadly outcome of striking your head in a fall is a subdural hematoma, which is a blood clot in the brain. That bleeding, and the intracranial pressure it causes, can take time to increase to the point where someone experiences symptoms –- although typically within 24 hours.

That’s why doctors say that anyone who suffers a head injury should avoid being alone for at least a day and not go to sleep unless someone is watching over you. If symptoms like a headache, nausea, changes in mental skills or thinking or seizures develop, a person should get an MRI or CT scan to find out if there’s been damage to the brain.

Most head injuries caused by falls don’t cause death. However, it’s wise to be conscientious about watching for symptoms if you or a loved one has struck their head in a fall (or any other type of accident). If you have suffered a head injury or a loved one died from a fall that could have been prevented by a more conscientious property owner who failed to deal with a slipping or tripping hazard, it’s a good idea to talk with an attorney. They can discuss your options for seeking justice and compensation.