Motorcycle Accident Head and Brain Injuries

January 2, 2024
By Michael Padway

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“Every time you sustain a head injury, the risk gets higher and higher. I always said that if ever there was a point where the risk was more than minimal, I would stop playing.”

-Pat LaFontaine

If there’s something that motorcycle riders and professional athletes from the NFL and NHL share, it’s the risk of head injury. Head injuries and brain damage are one of the worst injuries that can happen to a rider. While other wounds may heal, a serious head injury can end up debilitating or even fatal.

How Deadly are Head Injuries?

  • According to the National Institutes of Health, head injuries are the biggest cause of deaths in motorcycle crashes.
  • The mortality rate for traumatic brain injury is 30 per 100,000 or roughly 50,000 deaths per year in the US.
  • Deaths from head injuries account for 34% of all traumatic deaths.
  • The mortality risk from a head injury begins to dramatically increase starting at age 30.

Possible Injuries from a Head Wound

Head wounds cover a wide range of physical injuries, from minor to life-altering. From least to most severe, these include:

Complications from a Head Wound

Apart from physical injuries, other effects can manifest as a result of brain damage. Some may be temporary, while others can be prolonged or permanent, resulting in drastic changes not just to lifestyle but potentially the person’s individual identity and personality,

Intellectual impairment – There may be degradation of cognitive ability, in terms of learning, reason, memory, judgment, and concentration. Executive functioning may also be impacted, such as the ability to plan, organize, or multitask.

Communication problems – Reading and writing capabilities may be affected. In terms of speech, there may be slurring, problems with making changes to tone or pitch to express emotion, or inability to move mouth muscles to form certain words (known as dysarthria).

Behavioral changes – Depending on the region of the brain affected, victims may have marked changes in social behavior, empathy, or self-control. Some have verbal or physical outbursts, while others may display risky behavior and lack of inhibition or proper judgment,

Emotional effects – These can include anxiety, depression, sudden mood swings, irritability, and insomnia.

Sensory issues – Survivors of serious head injuries often suffer from vision problems (such as blind spots or double vision) and impaired hand-eye coordination. Others report having trouble with balance, or a persistent ringing in their ears.

Physical complications – From least to most severe, these include persistent headaches, vertigo, seizures, partial or full-body paralysis, and hydrocephalus or fluid buildup in the brain.

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The Different Stages of Consciousness

Victims of traumatic brain injury are categorized by their level of consciousness. These are:

  1. Fully conscious – Responsive, aware, and able to communicate.
  2. Minimally conscious state – where there are signs of self-awareness or the victim is able to respond to physical stimuli.
  3. Vegetative state – where the victim is able to do minimal responses such as blinking, making simple sounds, or moving parts of the body.
  4. Comatose – where the victim is unconscious and does not respond to any stimulus.
  5. Brain dead – when there is no measurable activity in the brain and brainstem. This is considered irreversible and persons who are declared brain dead are only kept alive by automatic breathing apparatus.

How Helmets Prevent Head Injuries

  • According to the NHTSA, helmets saved the lives of 1,872 motorcycle riders involved in various crashes in 2017. An additional 749 lives could have been saved if they had worn helmets.
  • A CDC study found that unhelmeted riders are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized for a head injury compared to helmeted riders.
  • Helmets are estimated to be 37% effective in preventing fatal injuries to riders, and 41% effective for motorcycle passengers.
  • For head injuries in particular, research shows that helmets are effective at reducing the risk by 69%.

How to Minimize the Risk of Head Injuries

  1. Wear your helmet
    • Some states have universal helmet laws, while others require helmet use depending on the age of the rider and passenger. Check your state law here.
    • Even if not required in your jurisdiction, helmets can dramatically reduce the risk of head, face and spinal injuries.
    • It’s a myth that helmets contribute to neck injuries during an accident. In fact, one study found that non-helmeted victims had 2x the injuries in the cervical spine, and more than twice the cervical fractures, and more ligament injuries.
  2. Check your equipment
    • Make sure your helmet is DOT-approved and follows other industry standards.
    • Ensure that your vest and armor are free of cracks, loose stitches and other weak points, since they will support your body and keep your helmet from contacting the asphalt in the event of a slide.
    • Wear gear that is reflective or luminous to increase your visibility on the road, and reduce the chances of side swipes or head-on collisions.
    • Equipment failure accounts for 3% of all motorcycle accidents. After inspecting your gear, do a walkaround of your ride to ensure it’s also up to snuff.
  3. Reduce speed
    • The faster you go, the greater the impact forces are in case of a collision. Since motorcycles lack crumple zones and restraints, these forces will be directly transmitted to the frame of your bike, your head and body.
    • Higher speed also means less reaction time and more distance needed to brake safely in case of a sudden stop situation.
  4. Drive defensively
    • Practice caution when approaching busy intersections, even if the light is green.
    • Slow down in heavy traffic, where the risk of lane changers is high.
    • Watch out for left turners in corners, and exiting passengers in curbside parking slots.

What to Watch out for In Case of an Accident

in a road accident, watch out for these symptoms that can indicate a possible brain injury:

  • A painful headache
  • Bruising in the whites of the eyes
  • Fluid leaking from the ears, or blood in the eardrum
  • Bruises or contusions on the scalp
  • A depression in the skull
  • Continual loss of balance, and not due to shaking or leg injuries
  • Memory loss
  • Eye spots or partial blindness
  • Altered behavior, such as slurred speech, inability to focus, or uncharacteristic irritability

Brain injuries that are not diagnosed quickly can progress to serious complications and irreversible brain damage. If you have any doubts, it’s best to seek medical consultation immediately. Even if the head appears fine on the outside, there may be internal swelling or hemorrhage that can only be detected by an MRI or CT scan.

The Cost of Traumatic Brain Injuries

The annual cost of treating or maintaining victims of traumatic brain injuries in the US is roughly $48 billion. Of these, motorcycle accident victims account for around $13 billion.

In terms of individual costs, a person who suffered a TBI incident may require between $85,000 to $4 million during his or her lifetime. The cost includes initial hospitalization, surgery, treatment, rehabilitation or long-term care in case of a life-altering outcome.

Apart from health expenses, there is another hidden toll. On average, adults with brain injury have a 60% unemployment rate within 2 years of the accident, compared to the national unemployment average of 5.1% (before Covid-19).

In case of an accident resulting in head injuries, consult a lawyer that specializes in motorcycle accidents. They can help you claim proper damages, deal with insurance, and negotiate from a position of strength to ensure that the compensation you receive covers the cost of a potentially life-altering disability.

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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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