With abundant sunshine and store-lined tourist areas, bicycles provide a physically and environmentally healthy mode of transportation for both Florida residents and visitors. However, this mode of transportation involves certain dangers, including the risk of head injuries suffered in an accident.
Head injuries are among the most common reasons for emergency department visits following bicycle accidents, according to information provided by the National Safety Council, accounting for nearly one-third of all non-fatal bicycle accident injuries requiring medical treatment. A majority of these 80,000 cycling-related head injuries are traumatic brain injuries, which are among the most complicated and life-altering injuries to treat.
If you or your loved one has suffered a head injury from a bicycle accident, we don’t need to tell you that the injury is serious. However, what we can tell you is that there is a legal process in which you can recover damages if the actions of another person or entity caused your injury. Read on for more information
If you have suffered serious injuries in a bicycle accident, you may need an Orlando bicycle accident attorney to help you seek compensation for the full cost of your injuries. Contact Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney today at (407) 490–1271 to schedule your free consultation.
Why Bicycles Lead to so Many Head Injuries
As noted by the Governors Highway Safety Association, 88 percent of the more than 800 individuals who die in bicycle accidents each year across the country are adults, with an average age of 45. Male cyclists are six times more likely to die from injuries sustained in an accident than female cyclists, with most of these accidents taking place in non-intersection, urban areas.
Bicycles provide a slimmer profile than motor vehicles, making them harder for other motorists to see. Additionally, bicycles—with just two wheels instead of four—offer not only less stability than a car, but also lack the protective features of a car, such as a steel frame, airbags, and seat belts.
Many states do not require cyclists over the age of 16 to wear a helmet, making them more vulnerable to injuries to the head, including facial lacerations, broken bones in the face, injuries that cause an object to penetrate the hard protection of the skull, and closed-head injuries that involve brain damage without penetration of an object into the skull.
The Seriousness of Traumatic Brain Injuries
Traumatic brain injuries involve brain damage that results from a violent blow or jolt to the head, such as that often experienced when a car strikes a bicyclist and his or her head hits the car, another object, or the roadway. The brain is an extremely complex organ that not only controls all of the body’s voluntary and involuntary responses, but also has only a limited ability to heal itself from injury.
While head injuries that feature broken bones and lacerations will generally heal with time and rest, traumatic brain injuries often result in unpredictable and permanent deficits to bodily functions. What functions the TBI affects depends on the severity of the injury, the section (lobe) of the brain in which the damage occurred, and the side of the brain in which the damage occurred.
Some common deficits created by brain injury to a specific lobe or side of the brain include:
- Loss of memory: Temporal lobe
- Inability to understand spoken language: Temporal lobe
- Inability to control emotions, impulses, or behavior: Frontal lobe
- Difficulty recalling events or speaking: Frontal lobe
- Inability of the body to control involuntary responses, such as breathing, heart rate, arousal, and consciousness: Brain stem
- Deficits with the five primary senses of touch, sight, sound, taste, and smell: Parietal lobe
- Difficulty with balance, movement, and coordination: Cerebellum
- Trouble seeing or perceiving the size and shape of an object: Occipital lobe
- Difficulty understanding language or speaking: Left brain injury
- Catastrophic reactions, such as depression or anxiety: Left brain injury
- Impaired logic: Left brain injury
- Difficulty sequencing: Left brain injury
- Loss of control of movement on the right side of the body: Left brain injury
- Visual-spatial impairment and loss of visual memory: Right brain injury
- Decreased awareness of deficits: Right brain injury
- Loss of big picture thinking: Right brain injury
- Decreased control of movement on the left side of the body: Right brain injury
Beyond the permanent deficits created by damage to a section of the brain, traumatic brain injuries also commonly cause medical complications even weeks or years after the date of the injury.
Some of those complications include:
- Consciousness disorders, such as a persistent vegetative state or a minimally conscious state in which the individual has limited awareness as to what is going on around him or her or cannot be aroused
- Seizures may prove recurrent. Recurrent seizures occurring after a brain injury are known as post-traumatic epilepsy.
- Hydrocephalus, which is a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid on the brain after injury. This condition is commonly treated by surgically placing a shunt in the brain to drain the excess fluid.
- Infections that result from bacteria reaching the protective tissues around the brain due to a penetrating injury. Often, a fever indicates an infection. However, fevers also can indicate damage to the part of the brain that controls temperature regulation for the body.
- Blood vessel damage in the brain that results in a higher risk of stroke.
- Blood clots in the legs due to lack of mobility following the brain injury and that may lead to a potentially fatal condition known as a pulmonary embolism, which takes place when a blood clot travels through the body and lodges in the lungs.
- Headaches, which may prove severe and chronic
- Vertigo, or dizziness, a common symptom experienced by many people after suffering brain injuries.
- Heterotopic ossification, which is the development of a new bone in a portion of the body where bones should not develop. These bones often appear in jointed areas, such as the hip or shoulder, and can result in inflammation, pain, and the loss of range of motion in the affected limb.
Florida’s Helmet Law
Florida’s laws pertaining to bicyclists state that: “[a] bicycle rider or passenger who is under 16 years of age must wear a bicycle helmet that is properly fitted and is fastened securely upon the passenger’s head by a strap and that meets the federal safety standard for bicycle helmets.”
Other laws that are designed to protect bicyclists from accidents and injuries include:
- A bicyclist attaching himself or herself, or his or her bicycle, to a motor vehicle is prohibited.
- Adults must secure children under the age of four who ride as passengers on a bicycle in a child safety seat or carrier designed for that purpose.
- A bicycle may not carry more individuals at a time than manufacturers designed it for, except for infants carried on an adult bicycle rider’s body in a backpack or sling.
- Riders and passengers may not ride on the handlebars or in any other position than on a seat that is permanently attached to the bicycle.
- Cyclists must either ride in bicycle lanes or, if no bicycle lane is available, on the far right edge of the roadway. Cyclists must ride in the direction of traffic flow, and they cannot ride on the sidewalk or in middle lanes of the roadway.
CPSC Testing: The Good and the Not-So-Good
The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) oversees and approves helmet safety. The CPSC requires that helmets marketed for bicyclists in the U.S. pass a series of tests that involve striking the helmet against an anvil at a set speed to show that the helmet can hold up to head impact accelerations over 300 g. This impact acceleration is the level at which a person would experience a skull fracture or a severe brain injury. There is no test to see how a helmet would perform at a concussion-level injury, though concussions are the most common type of brain injury suffered in bicycle accidents.
Additionally, researchers note, the CPSC tests do not evaluate the entirety of the helmet, including the helmet rim located on the sides of the front of the helmet. The CPSC generally tests helmets by dropping them from a height, directly down to the ground, although bicycle riders rarely collide with the roadway in a straight-down trajectory, but rather at an angle.
Researchers have suggested a new type of construction for federally approved helmets, known as the Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS), which would provide an additional layer of protective material that safeguards commonly affected areas of the helmet, including the rim, better than what the CPSC testing requires.
If You Suffered a Brain Injury in a Bicycle Accident
If you or your loved one suffered a brain injury in a bicycle accident that resulted from the negligent or reckless actions of someone else, you should pursue compensation for your injuries through a bicycle accident claim. This type of civil court claim requires you to prove that the at-fault party is legally liable for the damages you have incurred due to the accident.
To satisfy the elements of negligence, you must prove the following elements:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. In bicycle accidents, as with many motor vehicle accidents, motorists owe a duty of care to drive their vehicles safely and lawfully.
- The at-fault party breached this duty of care. Breach involves the action (or inaction) that the at-fault party took that led to the accident. For example, a bicycle accident that was caused by a distracted motorist would feature distracted driving as the breach in the duty of care.
- The breach resulted in an accident that caused you to suffer an injury and subsequent expenses and life impacts.
Although Florida law requires drivers to purchase personal injury protection (PIP) policies upon registering their vehicles in the state, and this coverage often extends to insured individuals when they ride their bicycles, the coverage limit of these policies generally can’t cover the extraordinary expenses incurred in treating and living with a head injury.
Most of these policies have a limit of $10,000, which is the minimum requirement for PIP coverage in Florida. Meanwhile, a traumatic brain injury produces lifetime costs of $85,000 to $3 million for medical treatment alone. Further, PIP policies provide coverage only for certain expenses, such as medical treatment and lost wages.
Because brain injuries commonly result in a significant loss of a bodily function, the law considers them serious injuries and generally exempts them from the requirement that injured parties exhaust PIP coverage before filing a bicycle accident lawsuit.
Bicycle accident claims allow for recovery of an expanded amount of damages, including:
- Medical expenses, including emergency treatment at the scene as well as in the emergency department, transport to the hospital by ambulance or air, hospitalization, diagnostic testing, physician services, surgical services, prescription medication, physical therapy, and rehabilitation.
- Lost wages due to being too injured to work or having to miss work to attend medical appointments related to the injury.
- Loss of future earning capacity if the injury results in a permanent disability that renders the person can no longer work or earn the income he or she earned before the accident took place.
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Permanent scarring or disfigurement
- Permanent disability
- Loss of consortium, which is a damage claim intended to compensate the injured person’s spouse for the loss of physical intimacy and companionship often experienced after a traumatic brain injury
- Loss of the enjoyment of life
Contact an attorney who has experience with bicycle accident cases as soon as possible, as there are time limits placed on your ability to pursue damages through the civil court system after an accident occurs. Filing a lawsuit does not necessarily mean that your case will go to court, as the majority of these cases settle outside of the courtroom. However, your attorney should feel comfortable with litigating your case if a fair settlement is not forthcoming.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Orlando, FL 32814