A car accident recently caused one death and several injuries. The afternoon accident occurred when the driver of a Toyota exited an access driveway to an airboat ride attraction. As the Toyota attempted to turn left onto the roadway, a Jeep allegedly struck it. Four people from the Toyota were rushed to the hospital with injuries.
Florida sees more than 400,000 motor vehicle accidents each year, with more than 125,000 of those accidents resulting in injuries. While many of the injuries are minor and do not result in hospitalization, others may prove life-changing. Read on for more information about the most common and most serious injuries that result from car accidents.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Traumatic brain injuries usually result from a violent blow or jolt to the head or body. The injury may include penetration of a sharp object through the skull or may involve what is known as a “closed head injury,” where the damage is entirely contained inside the skull.
Car accidents are among the most common causes of brain injuries. The brain has a limited ability to heal itself, meaning that the deficits created by the injury are often permanent. Mild traumatic brain injuries are referred to as concussions. While concussions are often regarded as a minor injury that often does not result in hospitalization, even concussions can cause permanent memory problems and chronic pain.
More severe brain injuries can produce profound deficits in a person’s ability to function. The deficits that a person experiences after this type of injury vary, depending largely on the area of the brain in which the injury occurred, as well as the side of the brain where the injury took place, the severity of the injury, and the length of time that passed before the victim received medical treatment. It is important to seek medical attention right away following a brain injury, as a build-up of blood or other fluids within the confines of the skull can create further damage if not promptly treated.
Some of the deficits commonly experienced by brain-injured people include:
- Memory or concentration problems
- Inability to control emotions
- Depression or anxiety
- Loss of any of the five senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch
- Consciousness disorders, including coma or persistent vegetative state
- Loss of problem-solving skills or reasoning
- Lack of balance or controlled movements
- Difficulty beginning or completing tasks
- Difficulty understanding speech or writing
- Difficulty speaking or writing
- Inability to organize thoughts and ideas
- Persistent ringing in the ears
- Difficulty with hand-eye coordination
Brain injured individuals are at risk for complications, such as:
- Seizures: Seizures most often occur in the early days and months after the injury occurs and are treated with anti-seizure medication.
- Swelling of the brain: This can cause increased pressure and increased damage, which the surgical insertion of a shunt to drain fluid build-up from the brain can relieve.
- Blood clots: Blood clots in brain-injured patients can develop and pose many hazards. Among those hazards are a risk of stroke caused by a blood clot at the site of the injury, or a blood clot that forms in the legs due to lack of movement after the injury. If the clot journeys through the bloodstream to the lungs, it can result in a condition known as a pulmonary embolism. Both strokes and pulmonary embolisms can prove fatal.
- Infections: Infections are often caused by penetrating injuries in which bacteria have accessed the protective covering around the brain.
- Headaches: Headaches are a frequent issue with all types of brain injuries and may end up being a chronic problem that lasts days or even months after the injury.
- A higher risk for degenerative brain diseases, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Like the brain, the spinal cord also has limited ability to heal itself following an injury, often resulting in permanent deficits. Spinal cord injuries involve damage to the bundle of nerves located within the bony protection of the spinal canal that extends from the base of the skull to the tailbone. Contrary to popular belief, spinal cord injuries do not always involve the severing of the spinal cord. In fact, most of these injuries involve a cord that is intact, but damaged.
Spinal cord injuries most frequently result in the loss of sensation or function below the site of the injury. What this means is that the effects of the injury are more severe if the injury occurred in the neck area than in the lower back area.
Spinal cord injuries are defined as complete, meaning there is a total loss of function or sensation below the site of the injury, or incomplete, meaning the individual retains some sensation or function below the injury. The loss of sensation and function is known as paralysis.
A person who has suffered paralysis in his or her legs and hips is referred to as a paraplegic. Individuals suffering paralysis in the legs, hips, torso, arms, shoulders, and chest are known as tetraplegic or quadriplegic.
A study from the Reeve Foundation indicates that more than 1.2 million Americans live with a spinal cord injury. 80 percent of spinal cord-injured individuals are male, and these injuries are most commonly caused by car accidents. Due to the permanent disability created by a spinal cord injury and the high prevalence of complications, this type of injury is among the most serious, as well as the most expensive, to treat.
Common complications of spinal cord injuries include:
- Lack of bladder control, which can result in urinary tract infections.
- Loss of bowel control, which can lead to serious problems, such as chronic constipation.
- Loss of skin sensation, which can result in the injured person’s inability to feel if he or she is too hot or too cold, as well as making it difficult to recognize when the skin has suffered an injury, such as a cut or bedsore.
- Bedsores, also known as pressure ulcers. This condition is common following a spinal cord injury that results in an individual sitting or laying in the same position for long periods of time.
- The inability to regulate one’s body temperature.
- Loss of circulatory control, which leaves the body susceptible to high or low blood pressure, swelling of the extremities, and blood clots.
- Muscle tone disorders, including spasticity—which means the muscles are too tight—or flaccidity, which is a loss of muscle tone.
- Respiratory issues, including pneumonia, which are caused by an injured individual’s inability to cough up secretions from the lungs. Pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death in spinal cord-injured individuals.
- Sexual disorders for both men and women, including loss of fertility. These disorders in men may include the inability to achieve an erection or ejaculation. In women, the injury can impact the body’s lubrication.
- Chronic pain, which is often experienced by those who have incurred an incomplete spinal cord injury and retain some sensation below the site of the injury.
Broken bones are another injury commonly caused by the violent force involved in an accident. Bones are generally broken as a result of a force that exceeds the bone’s ability to flex. The severity of the break depends on the force of the impact.
A slight force may cause a small crack, while a stronger force—such as that of a motor vehicle accident—may cause the bone to shatter. If the break causes part of the bone to protrude through the skin, this is known as an open fracture. Open fractures are the most dangerous type of broken bone to experience, as they pose a higher risk of infection in both the wound and the bone.
Symptoms of a broken bone include swelling in the area of the break, bruising, and deformity due to the bone being out of place or even protruding through the skin. Fractures generally take several weeks to several months to heal, and they often require physical therapy so that the injured person can regain lost muscle tone as well as improve joint motion and flexibility.
The violent shaking or jolting of a car accident can also result in internal injuries. Internal injuries often become serious, as they are hard to detect and may not receive prompt medical attention.
This type of injury includes:
- Abdominal aorta aneurysm, which is generally fatal and is caused when the abdominal area is severely compressed.
- Broken ribs, which can cause bone fragments to damage internal organs, including the lungs. When a broken rib punctures a lung, it is known as pneumothorax.
- Internal bleeding due to damage to organs, such as the spleen, liver, or kidney.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Whiplash is a condition that is caused by a forceful back-and-forth motion of the neck that is often experienced in car accidents, particularly rear-end collisions. While many people recover from whiplash in a matter of weeks through the use of pain medication and exercise, some people suffering this type of injury will have chronic neck pain and other long-lasting complications.
The symptoms of whiplash include:
- Neck and pain stiffness that worsens with movement
- Headaches that start at the base of the skull
- Pain in the shoulder, upper back, or arms
- Tingling or numbness in the arms
- Blurred vision
- Sleep disturbances
- Memory problems
While whiplash is often regarded as a minor injury, you should seek medical treatment to ensure that the injury is not more serious than you believe and that no conditions could possibly create complications for you. Complications are more likely in older individuals, those who have previously experienced a neck injury or whiplash, and those who suffered a high-speed injury.
Burns may occur in car accidents due to individuals coming into contact with hot surfaces, fires resulting from the accident, as well as individuals coming into contact with chemicals used in motor vehicles, including gasoline. Burns are defined by degrees, with first-degree burns being the mildest, and third-degree burns being the most serious. Third-degree burns often result in scarring, and they may require skin graft procedures to alleviate scarring and stiffness in joints caused by the scarring. In addition to scarring, a major risk of burns is infection, which can lead to complications and even death.
Severely burned individuals are often treated in burn units, with treatment involving the provision of fluids, the monitoring of body temperature and respiration, and the removal of dead skin from the wound so that new skin can grow in its place. Individuals who suffer from burns often have to use caution when out in the sun, because the scarred areas of skin are more susceptible to sunburns.
Lacerations are often seen in car accidents due to broken glass and jagged metal and may result in scarring. While lacerations are commonly treated by stitching or gluing the skin closed, some precautions will help to avoid infection. Open wounds, particularly in dirty environments, such as that of a car accident, can cause bacteria—including tetanus. Often, when a person is receiving treatment for a laceration, he or she will receive a tetanus shot as part of the treatment.
Signs that you need to seek medical treatment for a laceration include:
- Exposed muscle, fat, or bone
- Dirt and debris that remain in the wound even after it has been cleaned
- Excessive bleeding or bleeding that continues after applying pressure to the wound for 10 to 15 minutes
- A high-stress location, such as the joint, hand, or foot
- A wound that has jagged or uneven edges
Have You Sustained an Injury in a Car Accident?
If you were injured in a car accident caused by the negligent or reckless actions of another person, you will need guidance as to your legal options for compensation. An experienced lawyer can help, and most offer a free case evaluation, so you have nothing to lose by calling for more information.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue, Suite 150
Orlando, FL 32814