Motorcycle Accident Burn, Laceration and Road Rash Injuries

January 2, 2024
By Michael Padway

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For the average person, road rash sounds like a minor injury —  a few scrapes on the skin. For motorcycle riders, however, a road rash injury caused by a motorcycle accident can cover a wide range of injuries, from minor cuts all the way to gaping wounds and torn flesh. In worst-case scenarios, road rash can lead to permanent scarring or disfigurement.

Road Rash Definition

Road rash occurs when the skin suffers damage due to mechanical friction against a harsh surface, such as asphalt, metal, or concrete. Road rash injuries are more common among cyclists, bikers, and ATV riders, where the lack of an enclosed compartment and safety restraints can lead to falls and road contact.

In legal terms, there are two distinct types of road rash:

Avulsion road rash – This is when the skin surface is stripped away. Minor cases may be superficial lacerations, while serious cases can result in the underlying muscle or bone being exposed.

Compression road rash – This is when parts of the body get crushed between two objects. The midsection and limbs face the greatest risk of compression injury.

In addition to these two types, road rash injuries can be organized by the degree or severity of the injury.

First-degree road rash affects only the top skin layer and includes scrapes, scratches, and “raspberries”. It commonly results in temporary scars that heal over time.

Second-degree road rash is when the epidermis is torn, causing a laceration. Because the wound is deeper, there is a greater chance of wound infection that could cause complications.

Third-degree road rash is when the dermis or second layer of skin gets exposed. Such wounds reach into the layers of fat and muscle. Third-degree cases require skin grafts or reconstructive surgery.

What Causes Road Rash?

Road rash is primarily caused by contact with the road, because of a slide or fall. The degree of road rash can be influenced by:

  • The initial velocity at the time of the accident
  • The speed at which the skin makes contact with the road surface
  • The type and hardness of the contact surface
  • The length of the slide
  • Weather and seasonal conditions
  • Whether protective gear was used or not

How to Prevent Road Rash

  1. Always wear your safety gear
  • Unlike passenger vehicles with enclosed compartments, the only thing that shields you from the road is your protective gear.
  • Make sure to complement your jacket and boots with plastic armor, as these offer greater impact protection and abrasion resistance compared to fabric and latex.
  • Consider wearing a full-face helmet, which offers better face and head protection than half-face ones.
  1. Know what to do in worst-case scenarios
  • Be familiar with the hardpoints of your armor, so you can shift your body weight on them in the event of a slide.
  • Lift your head and neck above the level of the road surface while sliding. Even though your helmet will protect you from friction, imperfections in the road surface such as stones, dips, and cracks can jostle your brain and cause head wounds, skull fractures, or neck injuries.
  1. Drive safely
  • Most cases of road rash are caused by head-on collisions, lane change and left turn accidents, side swipes, and open car door impacts.
  • Avoid becoming a victim by reducing your speed in accident-prone areas like intersections, stopped traffic, and narrow streets with curbside parking.
  • Even when the light is green or you have right of way, always look in both directions before goosing the throttle.

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What are Burn Injuries?

Burns are skin and tissue injuries caused by exposure to heat, electricity, radiation, friction, or chemical contact. For motorcyclists, burns are primarily caused by fire or contact with hot surfaces such as exhaust pipes, during an accident.

Like road rash, the severity of burn injuries can be classified into four categories:

First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of the skin and are temporary, such as sunburn.

Second-degree burns affect the dermis, or second layer of the skin. It can be superficial, which leaves reddened skin, or a deep partial-thickness burn, which can cause scars or permanently discolor the skin.

Third-degree burns, also known as full-thickness burns, are injuries where both the epidermis and dermis are destroyed. While more serious than second-degree burns, it causes less pain since the nerve endings are also destroyed.

Fourth-degree burns mean that all layers of the skin are destroyed, along with the underlying fat, muscles, and even bone. This is a critical injury that requires immediate medical attention, surgery, and long-term care.

Common Causes of Burn Injuries in Motorcycle Crashes

Not all burns suffered in a motorcycle accident are caused by fire. Some can come from:

  • Contact with the exhaust pipe or engine, which typically reach up to 230F.
  • Chemical burns due to contact with fluids or hot gasoline
  • Contact with corrosive substances such as battery acid

In addition, the American Burn Association says that about 6% of burn center patients die due to smoke inhalation rather than from the burn injuries they sustained.

The High Cost of Burn and Road Rash Treatment

Data from the National Trauma Data Bank shows there were nearly 20,500 road rash injuries caused by motorcycle accidents in 2013. While most were slight injuries, about 10% required acute rehabilitation, and 400 resulted in death.

For burns, 62% of motorcycle accidents result in fuel leaks, which greatly increase the risk of burn injuries. Statistics also show that burns are the second leading cause of car accident deaths in the US and cost $1.3 billion worth of damaged vehicles.

Depending on the degree of the injury, treatment and recovery can take a few days to months or even years. For first degree injuries, most cases heal in two weeks, while second degree road rash will require stitches and take up to a month or two to heal. The temporary scars will require another 3-4 months to heal with regular application of topical treatment products.

For third and fourth-degree injuries, surgery in the form of skin grafts or skin transplants may be needed. Skin grafting costs between $18,000 to $28,000, while skin transplants can cost over $35,000.

There are also additional costs in the form of:

  • Lost wages and benefits
  • Rehabilitation
  • Pain and suffering
  • Diminished earning capacity
  • Punitive damages
  • Loss of lifestyle

Victims of serious degree road rash or burn may also be left with permanent disabilities or disfigurement. According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, even people who suffer burns in 90% of the body can survive, but are generally left with permanent damage.

In cases of road rash or burn injury, it’s best to consult a motorcycle accident attorney. Because these injuries can leave lasting damage, it’s critical that compensation accounts for future expenses, as well the losses in career opportunities, relationships, and quality of life. A motorcycle accident lawyer can help ensure you get fair indemnification so you can focus on recovery and making the most of your life.

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Michael Padway

Michael Padway uses his expertise in personal injury and motorcycle accidents to represent a broad spectrum of clients dealing with life-changing and permanent injuries for the first time. His offices are located at 235 Montgomery St., Ste 668, San Francisco, CA 94104 and at 3140 Chapman St. Oakland, CA 94601. For more information, please call (800) 928-1511.

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