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How to Treat Road Rash From a Motorcycle Accident

Personal Injury Attorney Tatiana Boohoff
Tatiana Boohoff, Auto Accident Attorney

Road rash sounds deceptively innocuous. Rashes heal, right? No biggie, right?

Not so fast. Yes, a road rash injury could amount to nothing more than the sort of scrape a child gets from falling from a bike or skateboard. It hurts and it needs some cleaning, but it will heal with some basic first aid. But other road rash injuries can get a whole lot worse than the sort of childhood booboo suggested by the name. The road rash you can get from a motorcycle accident amounts to a major trauma that comes with serious health risks, medical costs, and the potential for permanent scarring.

In this blog post, we examine these more severe cases of road rash and how to treat them. With any luck, you will never have to experience the extreme pain and long recovery time of one of these injuries. But just in case you find yourself nursing a serious road rash injury, we hope this blog will prove useful. And if your road rash injury resulted from a motorcycle accident that wasn’t your fault, contact a skilled motorcycle accident injury attorney at Boohoff Law today to learn about your rights.

What Is Road Rash?

Road rash is trauma to skin and soft tissue resulting from friction with a road surface (usually, but not always, pavement). It is one of the most common injuries in motorcycle accidents and is comprised of several distinct varieties of injury:

  • Abrasion, in which the road surface wears away layers of skin like sandpaper on wood;
  • Avulsion, in which the road surface tears skin or separates a skin layer from one underneath it;
  • Laceration, in which features of the road surface slice the skin; and
  • Thermal burn, in which friction with the road surface generates heat that burns the skin.

Any of these injuries, alone, can cause significant trauma and health risks. But when they occur together in a road rash, they can prove as life threatening as a severe burn or gunshot wound. In fact, doctors classify road rash injuries by degree, just like they do with burn injuries. “The 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,” according to this article in the Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons.

These primary injuries can also lead to secondary health complications (much the same way a severe burn can). They include:

  • Infection. The breadth and depth of the injuries from road rash, which often become embedded with dirt, can introduce dangerous bacteria into the wound, leading to life-threatening infection;
  • Tissue and nerve damage. Especially deep and severe cases of road rash can damage nerve cells and muscle tissue; and
  • Disfiguring scars and traumatic tattoos. A wide abrasion typically will leave a scar. If doctors cannot remove dirt and other material from the wound, it may cause permanent discoloration of the healed skin known as a traumatic tattoo.

These are not the only complications possible from a severe case of road rash. Anyone who has suffered anything more than a minor case of road rash should seek medical attention immediately. Waiting to seek medical attention (or skipping it altogether) could put you in danger of a life-threatening infection that worsens very quickly.

How to Treat Road Rash

Road rash injuries vary in severity. You can treat the simplest cases with the sort of first aid measures described below. But more severe injuries require immediate medical attention and may leave you hospitalized. If you have any doubt about whether you can treat a case of road rash on your own, play it safe and go to the doctor right away.

Treating Road Rash at Home

Treating Road Rash Burns You might treat simple cases of road rash from a motorcycle accident—and by this we mean very, very minor cases that resemble the cuts and scraps a child might get from falling off a bike—at home. Here are the steps Healthline.com recommends you take to treat minor road rash at home.

  • Wash your hands. Road rash wounds risk infection. Practice caution by cleaning your hands before treating them, so as not to introduce dangerous bacteria into an open wound.
  • Gently clean the wound. The primary method for doing this should be to flush the wound with water. If you use gauze or a cotton swab, be very gentle. Do not scrub a road rash wound, as that could end up pushing dirt and other dangerous parties deeper into damaged tissue.
  • Remove foreign matter. If flushing and (very) gently cleaning does not rid the wound of dirt and debris completely, then use a pair of tweezers to extract it. Again, be gentle.
  • Use antibiotic ointment. Ointment serves two purposes. It helps to protect against infection, and it creates a layer that will prevent a bandage from sticking to the wound.
  • Bandage. Use a simple band-aid if you can. But it is more likely you will need to use medical tape and sterile gauze.
  • Re-apply ointment/bandage. Change the bandage periodically to help prevent infection. Road rash injuries do not close as quickly as some other types of cuts and scrapes. Leaving a dirty bandage on them could be dangerous.
  • Keep an eye out for infection. Monitor the wound for signs of an infection setting in, such as continued swelling, redness radiating from the wound, foul-smelling puss, growing pain, and nausea. Any of these could signal a potentially life-threatening infection requiring immediate medical care.

If any of the steps above seem over your head, go to the doctor. Do not risk an infection or permanent scarring.

Medical Treatment of Road Rash

A doctor will assess the severity of a case of road rash as described above. If it is a relatively straightforward case, then a doctor’s office will follow the same basic steps above to treat it. For more severe cases, the medical literature suggests a course of treatment similar to how a doctor would treat a thermal burn. This may include “administration of intravenous fluids and shock resuscitation,” “topical therapy using antiseptic and/or antimicrobial agents,” debriding the wound (or removing dead or unsalvageable tissue), and performing a skin graft.

Doctors will also use techniques similar to those involved in thermal burn therapy to address secondary health complications. Intensive courses of antibiotics might be necessary to treat any infection that has set in. The doctor may isolate the patient in a ward specially designed to prevent further infection.

Because a severe case of road rash may also damage muscle tissue and nerve endings, doctors may also prescribe a course of physical or occupational therapy to help a road rash victim recover from the injury. In the end, this care can cost thousands of dollars.

How to Treat the Other Real-Life Consequences of Road Rash

Medical treatment for a case of severe road rash from a motorcycle accident is only part of the picture, however. The financial damage done by a severe case of motorcycle accident road rash—medical bills, lost wages, property damage, etc.—can follow victims and their families long after the wound itself has healed. So can the physical and emotional trauma of having lived through an extremely painful, frightening, and life-disrupting accident and injury.

These harms require as much “treatment” as the medical conditions brought on by road rash. But how?

In many motorcycle accident scenarios, the rider is not at fault for his own injuries. When that is the case, the rider may have the right to take legal action to recover compensation from the party or parties whose actions caused him harm. For example:

  • Motorist negligence or intentional aggression. Motorcyclists have the same rights to use Washington State roads as anyone else. Unfortunately, other motorists do not always treat bikers with the respect they deserve. Motorists frequently cut off motorcycle riders, fail to see riders in their blind spots, turn left across a motorcyclist’s path, and open car and truck doors in front of motorcyclists. Some motorists even engage in aggressive driving behaviors (such as road rage) that target motorcyclists. When an accident results from motorist negligence and reckless conduct, the motorist (or in some cases the motorist’s employer) may have legal liability to the motorcyclist who ended up with a bad case of road rash as a result.
  • Unsafe road conditions. Washington roads should be safe for every type of road user. Unfortunately, sometimes road construction crews and road maintenance departments cut corners or leave roads in a dangerous condition for motorcyclists. At the very least, motorcyclists should receive warnings about un-repaired potholes, grooved pavement, road debris, and other conditions that could cause them to lose control. When someone neglects to deliver these warnings and/or to repair the unsafe condition, that person may have legal liability for the motorcyclist’s road rash injuries.
  • Defective equipment. Manufacturers of motorcycles and aftermarket motorcycle parts have certain obligations to the general public to ensure the quality and safety of their products. If a defective product causes a motorcycle accident that leaves a rider with a bad case of road rash, then the manufacturer may have legal liability.

This is just a sampling of the parties who could have legal liability to a motorcyclist. The best way to find out if someone should pay you damages for your road rash injury is to consult an experienced motorcycle accident injury lawyer. A lawyer can:

  • Assess whether someone’s negligent or reckless actions caused your motorcycle accident and road rash injuries and advise you about whether you have the right to pursue legal action for damages;
  • Investigate the facts and circumstances of your motorcycle accident and your resulting road rash injury to build the strongest possible case for legal liability;
  • Negotiate with potentially-liable parties and their insurance companies in hopes of obtaining a settlement of your claim that compensates you for both your out-of-pocket costs and your pain and suffering; and
  • Go to trial, if need be, to prove your case to a Washington State judge and jury.

The sooner you speak with an experienced motorcycle accident injury attorney about your case of road rash, the better your chances of recovering the compensation you need. There is a short time window for taking legal action, and evidence pointing to who is to blame for your accident has a way of disappearing over time. Protect your rights by seeking legal advice right away.

“Treating” Road Rash by Avoiding It

We would be remiss in writing about treatments for road rash if we did not include information about how to avoid a severe case of road rash in the first place. The problem of road rash is hardly new for motorcyclists and the public. Here are some preventive measures that have been tested and proven to protect against the worst cases of road rash:

  • Wearing protective gear. There is a wide array of protective clothing motorcyclists can wear to reduce their risk of road rash. The motorcycle clothing industry constantly introduces new styles of pants and jackets, in particular, that resist abrasion. When worn along with a helmet (which is mandatory in Washington State), this gear can keep you safe from road rash altogether, or can at least minimize the severity of a road rash injury.
  • Trip planning. Knowing the roads where you intend to ride can help to avoid a motorcycle accident. Check out the Washington State Department of Transportation website, for example, for current information about road conditions and construction areas.
  • Be careful and ride responsibly. Like any motorist, you have a big part to play in keeping yourself safe when riding your motorcycle. Follow the rules of the road. Don’t speed. Observe warnings and traffic signs. Never, ever, get on your bike after drinking or taking impairing drugs or medications. And avoid riding when you know you are likely to encounter dangerous weather conditions that could leave you injured.

To learn more about your legal rights after a motorcycle accident leaves you with severe road rash, consult an experienced motorcycle accident injury attorney.

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2200 6th Avenue, Suite 768
Seattle, WA 98121