Motorcyclists are particularly at risk for injuries in accidents. Unlike passengers in a car, motorcyclists don’t have the protective outer shell of a sturdy frame or any other safety features, like airbags.
Motorcyclists are prone to many the same injuries as other car accident victims, like head and brain injuries, back and neck injuries, and broken bones.
But motorcyclists are particularly at risk for an injury called road rash.
Read on to learn more about motorcycle accidents, road rash, and how an attorney can help you secure compensation for your injuries if you’ve been injured in a motorcycle accident that someone else caused.
What Is Road Rash?
Road rash is the term commonly used for abrasions caused by scrapes against the pavement in an accident. Road rash is an injury to the skin and underlying tissue caused by rubbing, sliding, or scraping against the ground. In just one year, more than 20,000 victims suffered road rash in motorcycle accidents.
Road rash is commonly identified when the skin appears red and raw with possible bleeding. Road rash often involves the painful medical process of debridement in order to remove dangerous dirt and debris. The wound itself is generally quite painful, but if multiple layers of skin are removed, the nerve cells can become damaged, causing a permanent loss of feeling.
The degree of the injury will depend on the speed of the body when it hits the road, the texture of the road’s surface, and how far the body slides against the surface.
Like burns, road rash is classified by degrees:
- First-Degree: A first-degree road rash injury is a superficial skin abrasion with symptoms of irritation or redness.
- Second-Degree: Second-degree road rash occurs when the surficial part of the skin is broken and blood is visible, but there is no damage to the internal part of the skin. The lack of deeper damage allows the outer skin to heal more quickly. A second-degree road rash is susceptible to infection and scarring.
- Third-Degree: This is the most severe road rash. It includes torn or broken skin tissue and damage to the epidermal layer of the skin. Extensive scarring is common.
No matter the degree, road rash is a painful injury that leaves you vulnerable to infections. It can limit your mobility and disrupt your everyday life.
The most effective way to prevent road rash is to wear proper protective gear every time you ride your motorcycle. This includes a helmet, abrasion-resistant riding clothing, and gloves. It is the responsibility of the motorcycle driver or passenger to wear this protective gear. Eighteen states (as well as the District of Columbia) have universal helmet laws for bikers, and 29 states have helmet laws that cover some riders. However, the laws are sparse and varied when it comes to other protective gear, such as abrasion-resistant clothing.
How Should I Treat My Road Rash?
The first thing you should do after any motorcycle accident is to seek the care of a medical professional. The appropriate steps for treating road rash will depend on the severity and location of the injury. Medical debridement, medication, and specialized wound care may be necessary to prevent a nasty infection. Always consult a doctor or seek emergency medical treatment at the scene of your accident.
First-Degree Road Rash
Take the following steps to tend to first-degree road rash:
- Wash your hands first. Don’t attempt to treat or touch the wound until you’ve disinfected your hands, or else you’ll raise the risk of infection.
- Use antibacterial soap, alcohol, or disinfectant to rinse the injury, being sure to avoid rubbing.
- Apply antibiotic ointment to the wound.
- Use gauze or bandage to dress the wound while it heals, changing the bandage at least once or twice a day or whenever the dressing gets wet, dirty, or no longer adheres properly to the skin.
- Watch for signs of infection, including excessive or prolonged redness, jagged edges, drainage, or increased pain.
The majority of first-degree road rash injuries will heal within two weeks with appropriate care. The injury is deemed healed when the skin turns a dull pink, or close to the color of the surrounding skin.
Don’t be afraid if a white plaque forms on the injury. This is granulation tissue and is not uncommon. Do not scratch or peel off this tissue. If the wound has not healed at the two-week mark or if you experience infection symptoms, pay your doctor another visit to assess the wound and provide advice about your next steps.
Second-Degree Road Rash
Because a second-degree road rash involves torn skin, assistance from a medical professional is necessary for treatment.
If you cannot immediately seek medical care after your accident, take the following steps:
- Only treat the wound with clean and disinfected hands.
- Rinse the surrounding area to remove dirt, gravel, and other foreign materials.
- Cover the wound with a bandage or gauze.
If the torn skin requires stitches, the wound will take longer than two weeks to heal. The skin will remain fragile and susceptible to future tearing or scarring if re-injured at a later date. To minimize the risk of re-injury, keep the area well moisturized and spend a few minutes each day massaging the area. If you are suffering from scarring, apply silicone cream or gel for three to four months.
Third-Degree Road Rash
Professional medical attention is extremely important for third-degree road rash.
If you require treatment before emergency medical personnel arrive, take these steps:
- Use a bandage or clean cloth to apply pressure and stop any bleeding.
- Prioritize treatment of wounds with the heaviest bleeding to minimize blood loss.
- Keep applying constant pressure to the wound, including while calling 911 and waiting for emergency response.
- Follow any directions provided to you by the 911 operator.
Skin grafting is commonly required to treat third-degree road rash. The grafted skin is taken from another part of the body, commonly the thigh or buttocks, and is used to cover the damaged area. It takes approximately two weeks for the donor area to heal and even longer for the grafted area to heal. Do not perform any actions that could stretch or damage the graft site for four weeks.
There’s always a chance that the skin graft will be unsuccessful. If the new skin does not develop blood vessels and/or fails to connect with the surrounding skin area, the graft will be unsuccessful. An infection, excess fluid or blood, or too much movement all create problems for a skin graft.
Who Is Responsible for My Road Rash Injuries?
An attorney will work with you to analyze the facts surrounding your accident and the supporting evidence to determine whether any party acted negligently. If someone acted negligently, they are responsible for your injuries, plain and simple!
Parties often at fault for motorcycle accidents include:
- Negligent drivers: If the motorcycle accident involved another vehicle, the driver is at fault if they behaved in a way that caused the accident. Violation of traffic laws and regulations is strong evidence of negligence, including failing to check a blind spot, distracted driving, driving under the influence, speeding, or following too closely. Actions that aren’t specific traffic laws or regulations may also constitute negligence, such as causing an unnecessary obstacle for a motorcycle by opening a door into a motorcyclist’s path.
- Employer: If the driver whose negligence caused the accident was “on the clock” as an employee at the time or was operating a commercial vehicle, their employer is responsible. The good news is the employer is more likely to have an extensive insurance plan that can better cover your injuries.
- Vehicle manufacturer: If a malfunction of the motorcycle or any other vehicle involved in the accident caused the accident and your injuries, the manufacturer of the faulty part may be responsible. Work with your attorney to have the malfunctioning vehicle closely examined to determine the cause. If the vehicle was improperly assembled or otherwise sold to you with a defect, the manufacturer is responsible. If the vehicle suffered faulty repairs, the mechanic is responsible. Be sure to consider brake failures, defects in tires, improperly-installed handlebars, and failure of safety mechanisms when analyzing a potential malfunction.
- Local government: The local government is responsible for maintaining safe roadways and working traffic signals. If a failure of the local government caused the accident, the governmental entity may bear that responsibility. Pursuing recovery from such an entity is a difficult task because the law may protect the government from certain lawsuits.
A motorcycle accident attorney is an important partner when analyzing liability. Be sure to choose an attorney with expertise in motorcycle accidents.
Can I Recover from the Financial Burden of Road Rash?
You can recover entirely from your road rash injuries — not just physically, but financially too!
When seeking compensation from the liable party, consider multiple categories of damages as part of your recovery.
While working with your attorney to prepare a comprehensive damages claim, consider the following:
- Medical expenses: You should include all of your medical expenses in your claim. Be sure to consider non-obvious medical expenses like ambulance services, prescription medication, and an estimate of future care, such as physical therapy. For road rash in particular, medical expenses might include the cost of skin grafting, plastic surgery, and antibiotics to fight infections.
- Lost income: Depending on the intensity of your road rash injury, your recovery could take days, weeks, or months. If you have a second- or third-degree road rash injury, your movement will also be impaired for quite some time. These limitations often require road rash victims to miss work, work a reduced schedule, or perform only light work. Sometimes, severe road rash can even alter the course of your career or restrict your options for growth. You deserve compensation for these lost wages. Work with your attorney and an economic expert to estimate all future lost earnings.
- Property damage: In the event of a crash, a motorcycle is often damaged or entirely destroyed. Additional property, like protective gear or electronics, may also get damaged. The defendant is responsible for the cost of repair or replacement of any damaged property.
- Emotional distress: Motorcycle accidents and the resulting injuries are physically painful, but they can also cause significant emotional trauma. Road rash victims often experience anxiety, depression, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They may be mentally distressed by living with road rash scars. If this applies to you, be sure to include these injuries in your damages demand.
- Loss of enjoyment: Your road rash injuries might limit your ability to participate in activities that previously brought you joy. An attorney will work with you to analyze these less tangible losses for inclusion in your damages claim.
- Punitive/exemplary damages: Punitive damages punish defendants for especially egregious behavior, rather than aiming to compensate victims for their injuries. Many states place restrictions on punitive damages, including caps on recovery. Your attorney can advise whether punitive damages are warranted based on the facts of your case.
A comprehensive damages assessment is an important tool throughout your case. The defendant and their insurance company may present one or more settlement offers as the case progresses, but beware: Early settlement offers are likely to be substantially lower than the full cost of your injuries.
Having a clear insight into your total damages will help you evaluate these offers. Your damages demand is also the amount the jury will consider if your case proceeds to trial.
When it comes to caring for yourself and your injuries after suffering from road rash, it’s okay to admit you need help. After a motorcycle accident, the defendant and their insurance company will do their best to avoid paying your full claim. Do not allow them to deny you the compensation you deserve!
Choose wisely and act fast — all states have a statute of limitations that limits the time you have to file a lawsuit following a motorcycle accident.
The clock is ticking.
Contact an experienced motorcycle accident attorney today to understand your rights and options.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.