Motorcycle Accidents and Catastrophic Injuries

Motorcycle Accidents and Catastrophic InjuriesThe thrill of the open road. Feeling the wind whip by as you cruise along. The sense of being in control as you navigate your path. There are so many things to love about riding a motorcycle – especially on California’s scenic highways that offer amazing views and riding experiences.

That is, unless you are involved in a motorcycle accident. In 2020, for example, 5,579 motorcyclists were killed and nearly 83,000 injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

It is a simple fact that if you are in a motorcycle accident, you are at greater risk of sustaining a serious or even catastrophic injury than if you were in a passenger vehicle. A car or SUV offers a level of protection in a crash, but when you are on a motorcycle there is no outer layer of steel and aluminum to take the hit. Instead, the bike – and often your body – absorbs the energy generated in the crash. This can cause devastating injuries that may require expensive medical treatment and, depending on the injury and prognosis, ongoing care and assistance.

If you or a loved one were injured in a motorcycle accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence, it is important that you speak with a Los Angeles personal injury lawyer who has experience handling motorcycle accident cases.

Common injuries in Los Angeles motorcycle accidents

Injuries to the lower body are most common in motorcycle accidents. This includes broken or crushed bones in the legs and feet, as well as torn ligaments, bruising, and severe cuts and abrasions. Bone fractures to the legs are particularly common, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traumatic amputation of lower limbs can also occur in a motorcycle accident. However, the lower extremities are not the only areas of the body where a motorcyclist may be injured in an accident – especially when the accident involves another vehicle such as a car.

Motorcyclists are at risk of suffering a variety of injuries in an accident, such as:

  • Crushed or amputated limbs such as the arms or hands
  • Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Broken ribs, arms, or hands
  • Facial disfigurement
  • Internal bleeding
  • Lacerations
  • Organ damage
  • Whiplash

Additionally, motorcyclists may suffer serious abrasions, sometimes referred to as “road rash,” during an accident. Road rash can happen to any exposed skin that makes contact with the road during a motorcycle accident. While some road rash may be minor, severe road rash can lead to significant scarring and disfigurement.

Motorcycle accidents and traumatic brain injury

While injury to the lower portion of the body is more common, injuries involving the head, neck, and chest can also occur during a motorcycle accident and are typically more serious. Traumatic brain injuries can range from mild to severe, with symptoms appearing immediately after the accident or in the days and weeks that follow. Even a mild TBI can cause physical, sensory, and cognitive symptoms that can be painful and interfere with your normal lifestyle.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury can include any of the symptoms of a mild brain injury, as well as more serious symptoms such as a loss of consciousness, convulsions or seizures, clear fluids draining from the nose or ears, and an inability to awaken from sleep – just to name a few. A moderate to severe TBI can also cause “prolonged or permanent changes to a person’s state of consciousness, awareness, or responsiveness,” per the Mayo Clinic. Those different states of consciousness include, but are not limited to:

  • Coma. During this state of unconsciousness, the person is unaware of anything and unable to respond to stimulus. Comas are the result of “widespread damage to all parts of the brain,” and can last days or weeks. A person may wake up from a coma or may slip into a vegetative state.
  • Vegetative state. A person in a vegetative state is unaware of their surroundings but may open their eyes, make sounds, respond to stimuli, or move. It is caused by extensive damage to the brain, and can become permanent, however, patients in a vegetative state “often progress to a minimally conscious state.”
  • Minimally conscious state. In this state of consciousness, a person may show some signs of self-awareness or awareness of their environment. While a minimally conscious state is one of severely altered consciousness, it is not uncommon for it to serve as a transitional state between a coma or vegetative state to “greater recovery.”
  • Brain death. A traumatic brain injury that results in no measurable activity in the brain and brainstem is referred to as brain death. This is considered irreversible, with the patient only being kept “alive” through breathing devices.

While not all motorcycle accidents result in a traumatic brain injury, the possibility always exists. California law requires all motorcycle riders and passengers to “wear a U.S. Department of Transportation compliant motorcycle safety helmet when riding a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle.” Motorcyclists who wear an approved helmet increase their chance of survival substantially. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69%. Additionally, for riders, helmets are 37% effective in preventing death. They are even more effective for passengers, at 41% efficacy. The CDC estimates that motorcycle helmets saved approximately 1,872 lives in 2017.

Spinal cord injuries and motorcycle accidents

Similar to traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries can occur in a motorcycle accident. The combination of a lack of physical protection and the harsh reality of blunt force trauma can cause serious damage to the spine. A 2020 study focused on patterns of spinal cord injury in automobile versus motorcycle and bicycle accidents involved a retrospective review of SCI consults at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Los Angeles County between 2003 and 2013. The purpose of the study was to “determine neurological levels and extent of impairment, which were graded according to the International Standards for Neurological Classification of Spinal Cord Injury.” The study revealed that motorcycle accidents had a higher percentage of thoracic SCIs, compared with automobile accidents and bicycle accidents, both of which had a higher rate of cervical spinal cord injuries.

Thoracic spinal cord injuries affect the upper chest, mid-back, and abdominal muscles. As with any spinal cord injury, the location and severity of the injury determines the effect on mobility. While a thoracic SCI typically means that arm and hand function remains normal, mobility below the injury site may be temporarily or permanently limited or nonexistent. A motorcyclist who suffers a spinal cord injury of any kind may require extensive medical treatment and care, and be unable to resume their normal activities and lifestyle – it all depends on the location and severity of the spinal cord injury.

Injuries from a motorcycle accident can change your life forever

If you or a loved one were involved in a motorcycle accident that caused serious or catastrophic injuries, your life may now be marked by a dividing line: before and after the accident. Even a seemingly minor motorcycle accident can lead to serious, life-altering injuries. What may seem like simply a broken leg could leave you with a limp or constant pain and discomfort. Injuries such as traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury can leave you unable to live, work, and take care of yourself and your family as you did before the accident. The required medical treatment and ongoing care can incredibly expensive, and the impact on your ability to earn a living and support yourself and your family can be financially devastating. If your or your loved one’s motorcycle accident was caused by someone else’s negligence, it is important to hold that person or entity accountable for their negligence. An experienced motorcycle accident lawyer in Los Angeles can help.

The personal injury lawyers at McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP represent victims of motorcycle accidents in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. We fight to ensure our clients receive fair compensation for their injuries – we can do the same for you. Call our office at 310-474-1582 or complete our contact form to schedule a free, remote consultation with one of our experienced Los Angeles motorcycle accident lawyers today.

Please note that this blog is not to be construed as legal advice. Because every case is fact-specific, you should consult directly with an attorney to obtain legal advice specific to your situation.