Road Rash 101By Stewart J. Guss on October 31st, 2019
As kids, we all learn how painful it is to get a raspberry. Little Leaguers get them sliding into home base. Children on bikes and skateboards get them when they take a spill. They HURT. They look ugly. And they need lots of band aids. That said, raspberries heal, and they rarely amount to anything more than a memorable, if painful, childhood lesson in safety.
But then there’s the grown-up version of a raspberry: ROAD RASH. It’s way more dangerous and severe than a childhood injury. It can threaten your life, your livelihood, and your mobility. Road rash can take months and months to heal. It causes infection risks. This injury often requires skin graft surgeries. It leaves permanent scars. Road rash may sound tame, but it is an injury with lasting consequences.
In this blog post, I’m going to take you on a tour through the causes, treatments, and risks of ROAD RASH.
Just reading about road rash sounds painful. But, trust me, learning about this sometimes-horrific injury hurts a lot less than suffering it in person. The knowledge below might help you avoid the worst consequences of road rash, and will arm you with the information you need to make good decisions if a road rash injury upsets your life or the life of someone you love.
So, just what is road rash? Simply put, it’s an injury that results from skin sliding along the pavement. It can involve a nasty combination of medically distinct injuries:
- Abrasion. The rough road surface “sandpapers” away layers of skin;
- Avulsion. The road surface tears skin away;
- Laceration. The road surface slices into skin;
- Thermal burn. Friction between the road surface and skin (or skin and clothing) generates extreme heat that burns skin.
How bad can these injuries get? Simple answer: depending on the circumstances of the accident, road rash can be really horrible. Or, as this article in the Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons puts it, “[t]he degree of injury ultimately depends on the bodies in motion, the speed of the skin when it hits the road, the texture and condition of the surface, and the sliding distance.”
In fact, doctors classify road rash injuries according to their “degree,” similar to the well-known system for classifying burns.
Road rash also brings with it secondary health complications. They’re also dangerous:
- Infection. Roads aren’t clean. Road rash embeds dirt and grime in the skin, which can easily cause an infection.
- Soft tissue and nerve damage. If road rash goes deep enough, it can damage muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves, causing lasting disability.
- Scarring and traumatic “tattoo.” Anything but the most minor case of road rash will likely lead some kind of scar. When doctors cannot remove all the dirt and grime embedded in the wound, it may heal over, leaving a scar with permanent discoloration.
How It Happens.
When does a person’s exposed skin end up sliding along a road surface? Most commonly, it happens in motorcycle accidents where the motorcyclist lays his bike down to avoid a collision, or, following an initial collision, tumbles down the road. Another frequent cause of road rash is bicycle wrecks, which involve basically the same mechanics as motorcycle accidents. Cycling accidents usually (but not always) happen at slower speeds than motorcycle accidents, but cyclists also tend to wear even less protective clothing than motorcyclists, so their injuries can end up looking equally nasty. Though rare, severe road rash can happen in skateboarding and in-line skating. In other words, if an activity involves a human, a road, and some sort of wheeled transportation other than a car, road rash is a real danger.
How to Treat It.
Not all road rash is created equal. You can treat some cases on your own, so long as you keep your doctor on speed dial. Severe cases, however, will land you in the hospital, sometimes for weeks or more.
Home Road Rash Treatment
Let me be clear about one thing. Road rash is ALWAYS a nasty injury. Treat it with extreme care, even if it just seems like an adult-sized sore. Infection is a real risk with road rash because of the dirt, grime, muck, or even animal waste that can get embedded in the skin as it scrapes along a road surface.
According to Healthline.com, these are the steps to follow to treat a road rash injury at home.
- Wash your hands. A road rash wound is already dirty enough. You don’t need to raise the potential for infection by touching it with unclean fingers.
- Clean the wound, gently. Flush it with water. Be gentle when making any contact with the wound with a gauze or swab. Don’t scrub, as this could embed particles further into the wound and make things worse.
- Remove particles, dirt, etc. Sometimes flushing and gently cleaning the wound doesn’t remove embedded debris completely. If that’s the case, use a pair of tweezers to extract stubborn dust, dirt, gravel, and other ick.
- Apply antibiotic ointment. This will both help to prevent infection and provide a protective layer that will prevent a bandage from sticking to the wound.
- Bandage. If a simple Band-Aid works, then great. More likely you’ll need sterile gauze secured by medical tape (part of any standard first-aid kit).
- Re-apply ointment/bandage. Road rash injuries are nasty. Even without infection, they may take some time to stop bleeding. Keep the bandage fresh to help ward off infection.
- Monitor for infection. Yes, infection. If the wound continues to swell, if growing redness develops around the wound, if the wound starts to ooze foul-smelling pus, or if you start to feel ill in the hours after the wound, seek immediate medical care.
How Doctors Treat Severe Road Rash
If you visit a doctor’s office for a road rash injury, the doctor will likely first follow the same steps described above for a “simple” road rash wound. Doctors will assess and treat a severe case of road rash as a “friction burn” that, according to medical literature, requires the same essential approach as “[t]hermal burns, with the administration of intravenous fluids and shock resuscitation in the case of extensive burns and topical therapy using antiseptic and/or antimicrobial agents.”
When a case of road rash calls for more extensive medical intervention, medical professionals may “debride” the wound (meaning removing dead or unsalvageable tissue) and performing a skin graft (covering the wound with skin harvested from another part of the patient’s body).
Road rashes that go untreated or under-treated can lead to serious, life-threatening infection, disfiguring scars, and traumatic tattoos (dirt and such permanently embedded in skin).
How to Obtain Compensation for It
Not everyone thinks of a bad case of road rash as a time to talk to a car accident injury lawyer. That’s understandable if someone thinks the accident was their own fault.
Road Rash Liability Scenarios
But that isn’t always how it goes down. A lot of the time, road rash is MOST DEFINITELY someone else’s fault, at least partially. In those cases, you may well have the right to take legal action against that person or company for damages. Here are some examples.
- Lots of motorcycle accidents happen because of motorists other than the bike rider acting negligently on the road. The same goes for bicycle accidents caused by careless or reckless vehicle drivers. In these motor vehicle-related accidents, the person with the nasty, painful case of road rash may get to sue for damages. The motorist can face legal liability. So can the motorist’s employer if the motorist was on the job at the time of the accident.
- Sometimes people take a spill on the pavement because of an unsafe road condition. We’re talking about debris, giant potholes, grooved pavement, and that sort of condition that at the very least someone in the local road department should warn the public about. If an unreasonably dangerous road condition causes an accident that grinds your skin away from your body, then the law says the person or entity who failed to give you a reasonable warning should PAY FOR YOUR PAIN.
- Bikes, both the motorized and pedal persuasion, are consumer products. People who buy them have the right to expect they will function as advertised when used in an ordinary manner. Sometimes, however, they don’t. When products fail because of a defect in how they were designed, made, or marketed, and someone ends up with a second or third-degree road “burn” as a result, the manufacturer and others who could have prevented that defect could face strict liability to the person suffering.
That’s just three examples, of course. I can’t tell you all the ways someone could end up with liability for the damages you suffer from a road rash accident. My point is only that you should never assume that just because your road rash will (hopefully) eventually heal, that you don’t have a legal right, right now, to compensation. Even if you share some of the blame for taking a spill on the road, you may still have the right to recover compensation through the legal process.
Consulting a Road Rash Lawyer
To obtain the compensation you deserve, start by consulting an experienced road rash lawyer (Yes, those lawyers exist.).
What can a road rash lawyer do for you? The first thing a road rash lawyer can do—usually at a free initial consultation—gives you a quick read on whether you have a viable claim for damages. Sometimes lawyers need to do a little investigating, but oftentimes just that first consultation is all you need to get an idea of whether yours is a case where you have legal rights to damages.
If you and a road rash lawyer agree there’s probably a claim, and you agree to work together, then the next thing that usually happens is the lawyer does some digging to identify exactly who has potential legal liability to you, and also, to figure out whether that person can pay (No use suing someone who has empty pockets and no insurance!). After coming up with the list of one or more parties who might have a legal liability to you, a lawyer will usually make a “demand” on that person or company and/or its insurance carrier. Hopefully, they’ll offer to pay you the damages you deserve. It usually takes some skilled negotiation on the part of your lawyer to pull a reasonable offer out of them, but it often happens.
Until it doesn’t, that is. Sometimes the person who the law says should pay you decides they won’t. Luckily, if you’ve picked the right road rash lawyer, you’ll have a fighter on your side who knows how to take appropriate legal action. What that means will depend on the circumstances of your case, but it may include filing a lawsuit in local courts, or starting an arbitration, or coming up with some other legally-appropriate means to get you the money you deserve.
Or Better Yet, How to Avoid It Altogether.
Of course, the best way to deal with road rash is to NOT TO GET IT AT ALL! No one sets out on a ride hoping to have their skin scraped off on a rough road surface. But there are some best practices you can follow to make it less likely you’ll end up nursing a massive road rash injury. Here are a few of them.
- Wear protective gear. Motorcyclists benefit from a wide range of options for protective clothing that can help prevent, or at least minimize road rash. If you can afford it, buy it.
- Plan your trip. Take time to scout your ride, if you have the chance. Note any problem areas where the road gets rough or covered with sand and gravel.
- Exercise caution. Some motorists are jerks to people on motorcycles and bikes. But most of them are just a little careless. Either they don’t see you, or they cut it a little too close when they share the road with you. We’d love it if all drivers took extra care around bikers, but until that happens (hint: it never will), take extra care when you go for a ride to make sure motorists see you and can anticipate your actions.
If you find yourself dealing with a nasty road rash injury, consult an experienced road rash attorney to learn more about your rights.