Living With a Serious Motorcycle Injury
Florida is a motorcyclist’s paradise. Unfortunately, when bikers share the road with cars and trucks, there’s often a tradeoff. Bikers exchange four-wheel safety and security for the sense of highway freedom that only a motorcycle can give. When an accident occurs, that tradeoff often means that motorcyclists may experience serious injuries that can change their lives forever.
While motorcycle accidents occur for a number of reasons, they’re often caused by a negligent or inattentive driver in a car or truck. Vehicle drivers frequently overlook motorcyclists, particularly if the bike is in the vehicle’s blind spot. Other drivers create safety issues when they crowd a biker’s lane space and fail to yield the right of way. When a car or truck driver doesn’t respect a biker’s driving rights, accidents occur, and the outcome is often the same. The biker makes a trip to the hospital for treatment while the vehicle driver rides away with minor injuries or no injuries at all.
Motorcyclists and Injuries in Florida
As of 2017, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles counted 1,271,360 licensed motorcycle riders in the state. That’s not surprising, as Florida is the perfect place for cruising on two wheels. Long stretches of highway, tropical temperatures, and beautiful scenery transform each ride into an inspiring journey. Even commuting is better on two wheels. RideApart.com, a motorcycle enthusiast site, offers additional perspectives on why bikers love to ride:
- Coolness: When you ride, people think you’re on an adventure.
- Zen: You learn to forget about appearances, and you don’t get upset when other drivers misbehave.
- Mother Nature: Motorcycles get better fuel efficiency and release less pollution into the environment.
- More Human: Manufacturers assemble motorcycles using a more hands-on manufacturing process.
Sadly, inherent injury risks give motorcycling a downside as well. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other federal safety agencies track and document motorcycle injuries both nationally and locally. The CDC’s most recent complete-year non-fatal injury statistics show 213,015 motorcycle accident injuries nationwide during 2017. Of the injured bikers, 60,104 were hospitalized because of serious injuries.
The 2017 publication of Florida Traffic Crash Facts documented 9,707 motorcycle accidents in Florida; 552 bikers and their passengers were fatally injured, and 8,417 sustained injuries. NHTSA research has determined that motorcyclist fatalities occur 28 times more frequently than in other vehicle accidents.
Bikers Are More Vulnerable to Injury
Safety organizations readily pinpoint helmets as a motorcycle safety concern, but that’s only part of the story. Helmets become a safety factor only after an accident. During a vehicle/motorcycle crash, multiple factors increase a biker’s chances of sustaining serious and fatal injuries, including:
- Weight: Car and pickup truck weights have decreased in recent years. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety cites the current vehicle weight range as 2,000 to 2,500 pounds for small cars and up to 5,750 for large SUVs. Vehicle masses are still significantly larger and heavier than a motorcycle. A car’s weight damages a motorcycle during a crash. It can make a bike lose its balance and cause a rider to hit the pavement.
- Balance: A two-wheeled vehicle is less stable than a four-wheeled vehicle. A motorcyclist naturally loses balance when struck with minimal force. When a vehicle strikes a motorcycle at higher speeds, the displacement is more pronounced.
- Protection: Cars and trucks guard their passengers within a surrounding metal enclosure. These vehicles have protective steel reinforcements and passive restraint systems, such as airbags and seatbelts. Motorcycle riders have helmets but no additional safety systems to prevent them from forceful ejection and subsequent injury.
- Visibility: It’s not a biker’s fault when car and truck drivers don’t notice them on the road. A motorcycle is much smaller than even the most compact car. Vehicle drivers may not watch for motorcycles. Car and truck operators rarely move beyond the basics of motorcycle awareness. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) traffic safety marketing reminds drivers of this and other safety concepts with its Share the Road campaign.
- Speed: Hard To See, another segment of the DOT’s motorcycle awareness safety campaign, points out that even when vehicle drivers see an approaching motorcycle, they often can’t judge the distance between themselves and the bike. Acting on mistaken perceptions, car and truck drivers may make critical driving mistakes. They might fail to reduce their speed, stop, or yield the right of way.
Serious Motorcycle Accident Injuries
It’s great news when a biker survives a crash, but survival often marks the beginning of a long, difficult journey of recovery. Not all motorcycle accident victims sustain serious injuries. Unfortunately, many do, and they occur more often than they should. During a motorcycle/vehicle crash, a car or truck’s weight, speed, and other adverse factors align, and serious injuries are a near certainty.
The term serious injuries isn’t a casual phrase. The DOT and NHTSA define its meaning under the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria (MMUCC). Law enforcement officials use MMUCC guidelines for consistency in national injury and fatality reporting. These guidelines identify injuries as serious based on the following injury characteristics:
- Significant burns
- Broken or distorted extremities
- Crush injuries
- Severe lacerations
- Skull, chest, or abdominal injuries
Catastrophic motorcycle injuries fit within the above guidelines, but the term catastrophic usually includes conditions with severe issues. Some serious injuries cause temporary and partial impairments. The earmark of a catastrophic injury is that it usually causes impairments and lifestyle changes that last a lifetime. Examples of catastrophic injuries include the following:
- Severe traumatic brain injuries with neurological damage
- Spinal injuries with complete or partial paralysis
- Traumatic amputations
- Damaged bodily or internal organ functions
- Severe bodily impairment
- Multiple fractures
- Fatal injuries
Serious Lifestyle Changes
Motorcycle accidents are traumatic, even when the rider receives only road rash or minor strains, sprains, and bruises. The physical, emotional, and financial stakes are much higher when a biker must manage serious injuries. Serious and catastrophically injured people often require long-term treatment and physical, occupational, and psychological therapy. As the bills mount, lost wages increase their financial instability.
Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and spinal cord injuries (SCIs). Severe brain injuries cause neurological impairments that sometimes improve, but many patients may never heal completely. The National Data Statistical Center tracks traumatic brain injuries for the Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems (TBIMS). The center’s data shows vehicular crash as a 51 percent factor in the 16,495 brain injuries in its database.
The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) maintains a spinal cord injury database and cites vehicular as the cause of 31.6 percent of the 32,727 injured patients in the database. Spinal cord damage alters injured individuals’ mobility and daily functioning. It forces a shift in the way they do everything, including making a living.
The numbers for these two catastrophic injuries are staggering. Each year, the TBIMS estimates that 2.8 million people in the United States visit an emergency department with a TBI. Some patients have minor brain injuries, while others undergo hospitalization and extended care or die from their injuries. The NSCISC estimates that there are 17,700 new SCI cases each year. This figure doesn’t include those who sustained fatal spinal cord injuries.
When bikers experience such profound impairments, it can change their lives completely. These catastrophically injured people often live with a lifetime patient status. Managing their post-injury lives may require endless adjustments.
Spinal Cord Injuries
When an SCI damages (incomplete trauma) or severs (complete trauma) a person’s spine, the injury affects nerve bundles in the damaged area. Paralysis and loss of function occur at or below the injury level. A person’s diagnosis is based on injury level and function, and can be categorized as:
- Tetraplegia: An injury high on the spine at C-1 to C-4.
- Triplegia: An injury low on the spine at C-5 to C-8.
- Paraplegia: Paralysis and loss of function of legs and lower body.
The Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center provides fact sheets and helpful information about spinal cord injuries and how they affect an injured person’s life. Its resource page, Living With Spinal Cord Injury, discusses concepts and milestones that are important for a spinal cord injury patient’s physical and emotional recovery, including:
- Outpatient rehabilitation: SCI patients rely on rehabilitation for initial improvements in strength, stamina, independence, and mobility strategies.
- A new normal: Returning home from the hospital after a spinal cord injury requires adjusting to a new normal. Patients who learn to manage their bowels, showering, and other personal activities in rehabilitation must transfer that knowledge into real-life situations and schedules. Their pre-accident personalities often define how they meet new challenges. They eventually become comfortable with their new self-image and change their idea of independence to match their circumstances.
- Driving: Some SCI patients begin driving again. Bikers who prefer motorcycle riding can modify their bikes with dual hand brakes, electronic shifters, modified foot controls, wheelchair carriers, and other options for persons with paralysis issues. They may update existing cars or trucks or purchase new vehicles with the required options.
- Relationships: Given their physical changes, SCI patients redefine their ideas about parenting, family relationships, and even sexuality.
- Long range adjustments: Some spinal cord injury patients rethink their values and what’s important in their lives. Recovering patients use their personal resources to develop coping strategies, remain flexible, and bounce back from depression. They find purpose and stay connected to a support network.
Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injuries
Severe TBIs have their own set of concerns. As patients heal physically, they also deal with physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes. The National Institute for Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research fact sheet explains that moderate to severe brain injury is a lifelong condition. Brain injury patients begin symptom management during inpatient rehabilitation and continue their efforts throughout their lifetimes. Coordinated lifetime care helps reduce problems caused by decreased life expectancy, poor health, changes in functional abilities, and quality of life. Lifelong treatments address these and other issues.
- Inpatient rehabilitation: As inpatients, TBI patients participate in physical, occupational, and speech therapy. They begin managing thinking, physical, sensory, and emotional problems that are often common for moderate to severe TBI-injured patients. Rehabilitation targets a patient’s specific issues, such as memory, language, problem-solving, loss of strength, swallowing, and mood shifts. Patients may also have issues with vision, hearing, smelling, and touching.
- Alcohol issues: Brain injury patients who maintain pre-accident alcohol consumption habits can slow their healing progress. Serious brain injuries often cause seizures, and alcohol lowers the person’s seizure threshold. Drinking also increases the risk of subsequent TBIs and may affect mental abilities, depression, sexuality, and other issues.
- Driving: Vision, concentration, memory, hand-eye coordination, and reaction time hinder a TBI patient’s attempts at regaining former driving skills. Still, the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center found that 40 to 60 percent of people with traumatic brain injuries return to driving.
- Relationship concerns: When a person sustains a brain injury, he or she may experience personality changes, personal challenges, and other issues. Changing roles, communication, and responsibilities cause shifts in existing relationships.
- Brain injury progression: The Brain Injury Association of America sees severe TBI as a disease. It often improves, but sometimes the disease progresses beyond the initial injury. Some individuals with TBI develop endocrine disorders, cognitive decline, fatigue, seizures, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and other conditions.
Getting Back to Work in Florida
For SCI patients who desire employment, their limitations are often physical. Individuals who have experienced a brain injury have a range of cognitive, physical, and emotional issues. Both SCI and TBI patients make the transition back to work with hour reductions, lightened workloads, and job changes. Fortunately, federal and state laws and programs assist them in managing these challenges.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act includes guidelines that provide training, education and employment services to injured individuals. The ADA requires that employers minimize the challenges TBI, SCI, and other impaired workers face when seeking employment. They also mandate physical accommodation requirements and implement standards that prevent discrimination.
- Florida employees have access to rehabilitation and job services through the state’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.
- Social Security’s Ticket to Work program provides work-related training and support for disabled persons currently receiving Supplemental Security Benefits or Social Security Disability Insurance.
Florida Health Brain and Spine Injury Program
Florida law explicitly establishes the state’s Brain and Spine Injury Program. The statute establishes a fund that acts as a payor of last resort for patients with moderate to severe brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. The fund pays for treatment, education, and rehabilitation services for eligible Florida residents. Services include case management, acute care, rehabilitation, transitional living, assistive technology, home and vehicle modifications, and other long-term supports.
If you were seriously injured in a motorcycle accident, you need an experienced personal injury attorney who will protect your legal rights. At the Dolman Law Group, we’ve recovered millions in settlements for our injured clients in the past. While we cannot guarantee a favorable result in your case, we’d like the opportunity to help you secure compensation for the full cost of your injuries. Call the Dolman Law Group today at (727) 451-6900, or complete our online contact form. We’ll schedule a free consultation to discuss your case and determine if we can help you.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765