For over 25 years, Richard S. Jaffe has dutifully earned and vigorously maintained his reputation as a fierce trial attorney and litigator. There is no mistaking his calling. However, beneath the legal theory and courtroom savvy is an enthusiasm for medicine that persistently fuels this native New Yorker.
Today, Richard has combined this passion for law and medicine by completing his certification as a Certified Brain Injury Specialist (CBIS).
How his legal experience helped Richard obtain this honorable new credential
Richard completed a training program with the Brain Injury Association of New York State to obtain a CBIS designation recognized by the Brain Injury Association of America.
The program involved a rigorous course requiring an intensive study of brain injuries. Before Jaffe could even qualify for the certification examination, he had to show he had 500 hours of direct contact experience with people suffering from brain injuries.
As a personal injury attorney fighting for the rights of New York’s injured for over 25 years, Richard had this direct contact experience. In fact, this is what inspired his deep dive into brain injury cases.
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Richard and his team fight hard for clients who suffer traumatic brain injuries
“The work I had done as a personal injury lawyer often took me into the world of brain injury survivors,” Richard explained. “I began to recognize that these patients suffered from issues that were invisible. They would tell me, ‘I can’t concentrate. I can’t work. I’m a different person—and my children see it. So do my friends. I just can’t put my finger on it.’”
“Doctors wouldn’t diagnose these symptoms,” Richard continued. “They’d say, ‘Oh, it’s just the shock from being in a car accident. It’s trauma. It will go away.’”
But Richard found that many times, these things didn’t go away.
Diagnosing an injured medical professional
In one particularly striking case, Richard was representing an accident victim who happened to be an emergency room attending doctor at a major Long Island hospital. While listening to the doctor talk about her injuries, the attorney recognized that his client was describing classic traumatic brain injury (TBI) symptoms.
“It sounds unbelievable, but I actually helped a board-certified ER physician diagnose herself,” he remarked with a genuine sense of marvel. “That’s when I knew I should become more educated on TBIs.”
Richard’s experience as a volunteer EMT and firefighter blends well with his work
Richard says he would have loved to go to medical school, but with a full plate as a practicing lawyer, time simply did not permit for this “indulgence.”
The lawyer did, however, flex his penchant for medicine when he moonlighted for 10 years as a volunteer Critical Care Emergency Medical Technician (EMT-CC) and firefighter on Long Island.
“Being an attorney sucks out your soul,” he said. “I would fill it back up with volunteer work.”
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Putting knowledge to work in helping brain injury clients
Still, the attorney learned a tremendous amount while pursuing his CBIS. He learned that TBIs affect more than just injured individuals.
“Everything and everyone surrounding the patient is also affected,” he said. “Relationships with family and friends. Work. Everything about life changes. Seeing your way through requires the aid of an extremely strong support network.”
With his CBIS, Richard says he can be a link in that supportive chain for his brain injury clients. A deeper understanding of brain injuries will help the lawyer prepare and present cases.
“Many old-school doctors don’t spend time diagnosing brain injuries—unless it’s a giant hematoma coming out the side of your head,” he said. The things he learned through obtaining his CBIS will also enable him to explain injuries and damages to clients. “I can tell them in terms they can understand why medications don’t help and why traditional therapeutic modalities, like physical therapy, are not effective for this type of injury.”
Family and friends are crucial in telling a brain injury patient’s story
According to Richard, family and friends become especially critical in helping a brain injury patient work past the frustration of their symptoms—by validating them.
“Nobody can see this insidious injury other than by behavior,” the attorney explained. He added that special machines do exist for the sole purpose of examining the brain from a structural perspective. However, a person suffering from a brain injury must demonstrate disability in three separate settings.
For a child, the settings might be reflected in how the child is doing at school (do they follow directions?), at home (are they extremely emotional?), and in social situations with friends (have they become withdrawn?).
For adults, Richard says he counts on the “storytellers of a person’s life” to explain how someone has changed since their brain injury.
“When I go before the judge or jury, these storytellers can explain how they were before and after. At work, are they taking more breaks, or do they lack the ability to concentrate? At home, does their wife find them depressed? Do friends say he can’t watch TV for 10 minutes without getting a headache?”
This certification is only part of Richard’s journey, not a destination
This certification puts Richard in the position of delivering 360-degree service in his cases by:
- Representing injured clients
- Highlighting their injuries
- Helping them get better by pointing them to the right therapists and doctors who know what a brain injury is
- Highlighting to an adversary and a court just how devastating an injury can be
“I often tell people my role is about the journey—not the destination,” he said. “Imagine a person who suffers from a brain injury. This person goes to work every morning, cooks and eats three meals a day, goes to the movies with friends, and mows the lawn. That’s the person I represent.
“On the surface, this person is getting where they need to go and doing what they need to do each day. But what most people don’t think about is: ‘What does it take for this person to get out of bed every morning?’ This person wakes up with a raging headache. They struggle through cooking a meal because their executive and cognitive function is not fully functional. They put something in the microwave and forget it’s there because memory loss affects them. They set out to go to work, but they can’t find their keys because they left them in the door.
“For most of us, forgetting our keys in the door might happen once in a while. For a brain injury survivor, it happens many times throughout the day.”
His new accomplishment is a means to an end
In the end, Richard wants to expand in any direction that will help him help his clients reclaim their lives. He educates his brain injury clients about what their injury really is—stripping away the medical jargon and sometimes even speaking in his clients’ native language (he speaks Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Russian) to convey what their own physicians fail to communicate.
“I have to explain to them that they need to treat the symptoms they are experiencing. Just as they would go to physical therapy for a physical injury, they need cognitive therapy for a brain injury,” he explained.
Call the attorneys at Cohen & Jaffe if you or a loved one suffered a brain injury
Not all brain injuries are permanent. Fifty percent of patients regain full brain function. It’s the other 50% that Richard and his team worry about. They work to ensure clients receive fair compensation for their damages.
“They need a life care plan for their entire lives—therapy, loss of income, diagnostic testing, and so much more than what partial compensation will afford them,” he remarked.
If you or a loved one suffered a brain injury, call the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP to learn about your legal rights and options in a free consultation. Call (516) 358-6900 today.